Smoky Mountain Fishing Report 9/2/21

Location

Smoky Mountains

Water Levels

Little River: 1410cfs / 3.90 feet
Pigeon: 2300cfs / 3.87 feet
Oconaluftee: 1280cfs / 2.86 feet
Cataloochee: 113cfs / 2.65

Water Temperatures (approximate)

Low elevations: 61 – 64 degrees
Mid elevations: 58 – 62 degrees
High elevations: 53 – 58 degrees

Current Conditions

Ida came through mid week and dumped a ton of rain so streams are too high to fish right now. However, all that rain coupled with mild temperatures has dropped water temperatures a bunch.

Water is high everywhere but the North Carolina side of the park is in a little better shape. It will just take a couple of days to drop to workable levels. Across the board, expect fishing conditions to improve greatly by the latter part of the weekend.

Projected Conditions

Once water drops, we should be looking at a great week ahead! As mentioned above, water temperatures have dropped significantly which should have lower elevation streams turning on. Temperatures are expected to remain mild through the week. I’m sure we’ll have at least a couple more bouts with hot weather in the coming weeks but for now, enjoy this little fall teaser!

Tips

Over the next day or two, I’d stay off the streams unless you really know your way around Smokies streams. High water is dangerous and there will be a very limited amount of fishable water. As water continues to drop, use caution and focus flatter, “pooly” parts of the stream.

It will be mostly nymphing in the coming days… fish them heavy and deep. Check out Fishing High Water for a few tips. By Sunday or Monday we should begin seeing topwater activity pick up again.

Hatches/Fly Suggestions

While water is high, I’d focus mostly on nymphs. I’d fish a pair and try to diversify them. Have one bright and one drab or one big and the other small. Don’t be afraid to experiment. In addition to the standard nymphs mentioned below, I like worm patterns and big, rubber-legged stoneflies in higher water.

Once the water drops back to normal, you’ll still do a lot of pocket water fishing in the coming weeks. For that, it’s tough to beat a dry fly/dropper rig. For a dry fly, I like anything that floats well and that I can see, probably in the size #16-12 range. I prefer something yellow and probably foam. However, we will soon be transitioning into tans and oranges. But most any attractor will get you through most situations. Parachute Adams, Parachute Hares Ears, Thunderheads, Adams Wulffs and Royal Wulffs always do pretty well.

But as mentioned, you’ll want to be sure to have some dry flies in yellow, and soon orange and tan to best match hatching insects. A yellow, orange or tan Neversink in #16 – 14 is a staple for me. So is a yellow or orange Stimulator. I’d also carry some tan Elk Hair Caddis in #16-14. For nymphs, try Hares Ears, Pheasant Tails, Copper Johns, Tellico Nymphs and a favorite this time of year… George Nymphs.

Summer is winding down but terrestrials will still be an important food source for the next 6 weeks or so. Fish will continue feeding on ants and beetles. Inchworms are abundant as well and a Green Weenie can be a killer this time of year. It’s a great fly to drop off a dry fly. Check out my article Hidden Terrestrials for a different approach to your terrestrial fishing,

Check out my Hatch Guide for complete hatch information.

Featured Fly

Isonychia nymphs are very active this time of year. While there are a number of specific Isonychia patterns, the George Nymph has always been one of my best imitations. So, while it’s a great generic nymph all year, I think the George Nymph is at its best in August and September!

George Nymph

Smokies Fishing Report 8/2/21

Smoky Mountain Stream

Location

Smoky Mountains

Water Levels

Little River: 103cfs / 1.61 feet
Pigeon: 169cfs / 1.55 feet
Oconaluftee: 208cfs / 1.29 feet
Cataloochee: 36.2cfs / 2.22

Water Temperatures (approximate)

Low elevations: 64 – 68 degrees
Mid elevations: 61 – 65 degrees
High elevations: 59 – 63 degrees

Current Conditions

Conditions are very August-like. Water is a little low (though we got a little help from some rain yesterday) and temperatures are warm in the lower elevations, reasonable in mid elevations and good in the high country.

Projected Conditions

Temperatures are relatively mild (for August) through the weekend with spotty chances for rain. Enjoy it while you can… looks like we get hot again next week.

Tips

I would completely stay away from the lower elevation streams – this includes really anything under 2000′. Water temps are warm and fish will not be very active. And if you do catch one you’ll be stressing it to the point where it likely won’t survive. Mid elevations should be good in the morning and early afternoon. High elevations should fish well all day but will likely have the least amount of water, so expect very spooky fish.

Hatches/Fly Suggestions

Most of your fishing is in pocket water this time of year and it’s tough to beat a dry fly/dropper rig. For a dry fly, I like anything that floats well and that I can see, probably in the size #16-12 range. I prefer something yellow and probably foam. But most any attractor will get you through most situations. Parachute Adams, Parachute Hares Ears, Thunderheads, Adams Wulffs and Royal Wulffs always do pretty well. But as mentioned, you’ll want to be sure to have some dry flies in yellow. A Neversink in #16 – 14 is a staple for me. So is a Yellow Stimulator. I’d also have a selection of Parachute Sulphurs and Cahills. For nymphs, try Hares Ears, Pheasant Tails, Copper Johns and Tellico Nymphs.

During the heat of summer when hatches are sparse, attention always turns to terrestrials and there are a number of ways to incorporate them on either end of your dry/dropper rig. Fish are feeding a lot on ants and beetles. Inchworms are abundant as well and a Green Weenie can be a killer this time of year. It’s a great fly to drop off a dry fly. Check out my article Hidden Terrestrials for a different approach to your terrestrial fishing,

Check out my Hatch Guide for complete hatch information.

Featured Fly

This is not the first appearance of the Green Weenie as a featured fly but it’s a terrific fly this time of year. Definitely one of my favorite summer “nymphs” to fish as a dropper.

green weenie
Green Weenie

Rob’s Steroid Sally

Rob's Steroid Sally
Steroid Sally Top

Little Yellow Sally stoneflies are one of the most prolific hatches in the Smoky Mountains. Most years, we begin seeing the first ones around mid April and they tend to hang around until sometime in July. They’re small, dainty and bright, usually a bright yellow to sometimes chartreuse color.

For years I tied and fished very exact imitations of these bugs, and I still do on more heavily fished rivers where fish seem to be a little pickier.  But those smaller, more delicate versions are harder to see on the water and they have a tendency to sink in faster currents. Both of those features can spell trouble, or at least frustration, when guiding a beginner angler.

Yellow Sally
Little Yellow Sally

As a fisherman and especially as a guide, I like simplicity and versatility. The more variables I can remove from a situation (like a sinking dry fly), the better I can put clients in a position for success. Additionally, in many of the backcountry streams in the Smokies, the fish are not overly particular on fly patterns. Not spooking them and getting a good drift will usually produce strikes more than fly pattern. But if you can have a fly that is at least in the same ballpark of color, profile and/or size as the naturals, you’ll stack the deck even more in your favor.

So a few years ago, I began creating a fly that would be highly visible, extremely buoyant, durable and at least vaguely suggesting a Yellow Sally. I ended up with a beefy foam bug about two sizes bigger than a typical Yellow Sally – hence the name “Steroid Sally.” And if I’m being totally honest, I designed it more as something to support a dropper nymph than a dry fly to cast to rising trout. It would basically be an edible strike indicator.  But you guessed it… the trout loved it.

Rob's Steroid Sally
Steroid Sally Profile

Though no dry fly is totally unsinkable, this one is probably the closest I’ve found, at least in the smaller, trout fly category. It has become a go-to dry fly for me from late spring through early fall. And while yellow is still my favorite color, variations in orange, tan and lime green have also been very productive.

It has quickly become the most frequently requested fly for the custom tying orders I do in the winter.  Give me a shout if you want some or check out the recipe below if you want to tie some for yourself.

Rob’s Steroid Sally

  • Hook: 3XL Dry Fly #12
  • Thread: 8/0 Yellow
  • Lower Body & Head: 2mm yellow foam
  • Top Body: 2mm lime green foam
  • Wing: Yellow floating poly-yarn
  • Legs: Small round rubber, yellow

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

Flies: Soft Hackle Wired Caddis

Soft Hackle Wired Caddis Fly Pattern
Soft Hackle Wired Caddis

Caddis have always seemed to be one of the most overlooked and under-imitated aquatic insects in the fly fishing world.  Maybe it’s because they haven’t written about caddis as much as their sexier mayfly cousins over the years.  I mean, they gave mayflies names like Pale Morning Dun, Quill Gordon, and Gray Fox… just to name a few.  They gave caddis names like Green Caddis, Brown Caddis, Black Caddis…

Caddis Larva
Caddis Larva

Regardless of the lack of respect given to caddis over the years, they have always been and continue to be abundant in nearly every body of freshwater and a staple in the diet of trout everywhere.  I have numerous caddis patterns that I fish seasonally in the Smokies, but one that finds its way into the line-up more than any other is the Soft Hackle Wired Caddis.

There have been a number of wire body caddis patterns over the years and this is simply my variation on similar recipes.  I sometimes tie it without a bead, but most often with a black tungsten bead at the head. It fishes well on a dead drift under a strike indicator but, especially when caddis are emerging, can be very effective fished with a drift and swing method.  Learn more about this method and other similar techniques in this article on Active Nymphing.

Soft Hackle Wired Caddis

Hook:#18 – 12 TMC 2457 (or equivalent)
Bead:Black tungsten to match hook size
Body:Small chartreuse wire*
Back:Peacock herl woven between wire wraps
Thorax:Black or brown Wapsi Life Cycle dubbing*
Hackle:Black or brown hen*

*You can substitute other colors to match specific caddis species

Flies: Tellico Nymph

Blackburn Tellico Nymph Fly Pattern
Blackburn Tellico

My friend Walter Babb said that most people’s favorite fly is the fly they happened to have on the first day the fishing was really good.  The implication of his statement is that more often than not, it’s the archer, not the arrow.  When you present it well and the fish are feeding, it probably doesn’t matter what your fly is.  And if the fish aren’t feeding?  It probably doesn’t matter what fly you have on!

But you had that fly on the first day the fishing was good. Now you have confidence in it.  Now you tie it on first and leave it on longer.  I have countless fly patterns that I abandoned because they didn’t catch fish the first time I tried them. All too often, that first time was after I tried everything else.  Nothing was working that day!

With all of that said, I have, by far, caught more big brown trout in the Smokies on a Tellico Nymph than any other fly.  But, you guessed it… the first big brown trout I caught in the Smokies was on a Tellico Nymph.  I have confidence in it.  And since most of the big browns I caught over the years were either spotted first or caught during “favorable brown trout conditions,” I put a Tellico on in anticipation.  So, it’s a bit deceiving.  Who is to say I wouldn’t have caught those fish on a Prince Nymph had I chosen to tie one on?

Nevertheless, the Tellico Nymph is a good fly and it’s been around a long time.  Its exact origins are unclear, though most think it was obviously created and first fished on the Tellico River in East Tennessee.  It has definitely been around since the 1940’s, but some estimate that it may date back to the turn of the 20thcentury.  In any case, the Tellico Nymph is the most famous fly from this region. It still accounts for fish in the Smokies and all over the world.

In addition to its origin, there is some confusion as to what the fly imitates.  Many contend that it represents a caddis larva.  Others are just as certain it imitates a mayfly nymph.  To me, there is absolutely no doubt that it represents a golden stonefly nymph.  The coloration and size are consistent with that of a golden stone, and the Tellico River is known for its abundance of these nymphs.

As with any popular fly that has been around for this long, there have been a number of variations on the pattern over the years.  Rick Blackburn devised personal favorite.  I tie most in size #10.

Blackburn’s Tellico

Hook:3XL nymph hook #12 – 6
Thread:Dark brown 6/0
Weight:.015 to .035 lead wire (depending on hook size)
Tail:Mink fibers (I often use moose as a substitute)
Rib:Gold wire and 2-3 strands of peacock herl
Wing Case:Section of turkey tail – lacquered
Body:Wapsi Stonefly Gold Life Cycle dubbing
Hackle:Brown Chinese neck hackle, palmered through thorax

Flies: Parachute Adams

Parachute Adams Fly Pattern
Parachute Adams

I was shocked when I realized that I had never included an article about the Parachute Adams in this newsletter.  Not only is it one of the best dry flies in the Smoky Mountains, it is arguably the best dry fly for trout in the world.  It doesn’t imitate anything in particular but just has a buggy look. Therefore, it serves as a great “generic” mayfly imitation.  In a pinch, it could also pass for a number of caddis and midges.

Adams Dry Fly Pattern
Traditional “Catskill style” Adams dry fly

It is derived from the original Adams dry fly.  A parachute pattern is merely a method of tying a dry fly.  While traditional mayfly patterns had two upright and divided wings, with a hackle wound around the hook vertically; a parachute pattern has a single post with the hackle wound horizontally around that post.  Because the post is typically white or some other bright color like pink or orange, the angler can better see the fly on the water.  Additionally, with a hackle wound horizontally around the post, the fly rides flatter on the water with a more realistic profile.

The original fly has been around for nearly 100 years.  In 1922, Leonard Halladay, a Michigan fly tyer conceived the Adams as a general mayfly imitation. It was first fished by an Ohio attorney and friend of Halladay, Charles F. Adams on the Boardman River near Traverse City, Michigan. Charles Adams reported his success with the fly to Halladay who decided to name the fly after his friend.  While it is unclear exactly when the Adams got the “parachute treatment,” parachute style flies began gaining popularity in the U.S. in 1971 when Swisher and Richards published the book, Selective Trout, and advocated the advantage of dry flies that rode flush on the water.  One would assume that the parachute version of the Adams was born somewhere in that timeframe.

Since then, it has seen numerous  variations in the body color, post material, post color and more.  While many of these variations have been highly successful, it’s still tough to beat the traditional pattern.  Below is the recipe for the traditional version.

Parachute Adams

Hook: TMC 100 (or equivalent) sizes #10 – #26
Thread: 8/0 black
Tail: Even mix of brown and grizzly hackle fibers
Body: Natural muskrat fur (or and modern dry fly dubbing in Adams Grey)
Post: White calf hair (synthetics such as floating poly yarn also work well)
Hackle: One grizzly and one brown rooster hackle, sized to match hook

Flies: Borger’s Fleeing Crayfish

Borger's Fleeing Crayfish Fly Pattern.
Borger’s Fleeing Crayfish

The Fleeing Crayfish was originated by fly fishing legend, Gary Borger in the 1980’s.  He noted that while many crayfish pattern with ultra realistic, outstretched claws and the like looked great, most fish would eat them as they were retreating or fleeing.  The design of his pattern imitates the crayfish in this moment.  It has unbelievable movement and motion in the water and is a killer pattern for smallmouth and large browns.

I’ve included the recipe for my most common version of this pattern, but I tie it in a number of different color combinations.  You should substitute colors that best represent crayfish in the waters you fish.

I should mention that this fly’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness.  The loose piece of rabbit hide that provides so much “action” in the fly will inevitable tear off after numerous fish.  Since the rest of the fly is so durable, I carry a package of rabbit strips with me so that I can replace that piece when necessary.

Borger’s Fleeing Crayfish

Hook: 3x long streamer #10 – #4
Thread: 6/0 Brown
Eyes: Barbell matched to hook size
Tail: Light green medium marabou
Body: Crayfish orange dubbing
Legs: Pheasant rump feather
Pinchers: Natural rabbit hide strip – medium
Other Materials: Super glue to secure eyes

Flies: Egan’s Headstand

Egan's Headstand Fly Pattern
Egan’s Headstand

From the creative fly tying mind of Lance Egan comes one of my favorite carp flies of all time.  I’m not too sure what it’s supposed to imitate but for me, that’s true of many carp patterns.  Most likely it represents a small crayfish… possibly a dragonfly nymph.

The bead chain eyes give it the perfect amount of weight to get down quickly to carp feeding on a shallow flat without the loud splash of lead.  And when the eyes are positioned correctly, it rides hook up, preventing bottom snags.

Present it by leading the carp slightly and retrieve it very slowly into carp’s path.  The take will be subtle.  Watch for the turn of the carp’s head, set the hook, and hang on!

Egan’s Headstand

Hook: TMC 2457 #8
Thread: 6/0 Black
Tail: Red fox squirrel tail
Body: Medium to dark brown dubbing
Hackle: Brown rooster, palmered
Rib: Fine copper wire
Throat: Peacock sword
Legs: Sili-legs pumpkin – orange – black
Head: Bright orange dubbing
Eyes: Medium silver bead chain, positioned just behind the eye.

Flies: Stimulator

Yellow Stimulator Fly Pattern
Yellow Stimulator

Most people like fishing dry flies because they can see the fish take it. But fishing dry flies in the Smokies can be a challenge, especially in pocket water. Besides being difficult to keep afloat, they can be difficult to see in fast water. But the good thing is trout aren’t often selective in this kind of water. Therefore, you’re choice of dry flies usually doesn’t have to be so “precise.”

When it comes to fishing dry flies in the Smokies, I am typically looking for two primary things in a pattern. It needs to be visible and it needs to be buoyant.  Beyond that I can begin focusing on a few more details like color and size.

In general, trout in the Smokies don’t see heavy hatches of individual insects.  Sure, there are exceptions. But they mostly see small quantities of a lot of different insects.  So, if you can present the fly naturally and without spooking fish, most any all-purpose, “prospecting” fly pattern will do the trick.  As mentioned above, if you can get a little more precise with size and color, your pattern will be that much more effective.

Matching size will require more observation of bugs on the water or simply having general knowledge of what should be hatching.  The same two things can help with matching color. Having a broad knowledge of how seasons impact color will also help. With some exceptions, aquatic insects tend to blend in with their surroundings.  So, in winter months when trees are bare, most of what hatches is dark because the bugs need to blend in with the darker branches. As foliage comes in, most of what hatches is brighter.  Because the bugs need to blend in with the leaves. It’s nature taking care of itself.

The Stimulator is a long time favorite fly pattern of Smoky Mountain anglers for all of the above reasons.  Its buoyancy and light colored wing not only make it easy to see, but make it a perfect “indicator fly” when fishing a dropper.  And if you mix and match sizes and colors, you could nearly fish a Stimulator 12 months out of the year!

Stimulators Punk Rock Band
Punk rock shaping the fly fishing world

The Stimulator was long thought to be the invention of well-known West Coast angler and fly shop owner, Randall Kaufmann.  While Kaufmann is responsible for the modifications that made the fly most of us know today, the fly’s true originator is thought to be Paul Slattery, who tied a stonefly pattern called the Fluttering Stonefly to fish on the Musconetcong River in central New Jersey.  This was in the early 1980’s and he soon renamed the fly after a New York City punk-rock band called The Stimulators.

Golden Stonefly Adult
Golden Stonefly

In any case, the fly seems to have been created to imitate an adult stonefly, but it is also a good suggestion of a caddis and sometimes even a hopper.  I most often fish it in yellow and in sizes #16 – 8.  I think the smaller size makes a great imitation for the prolific Little Yellow Sally Stoneflies. The larger sizes are good representations of the larger golden stones. They tend to hatch on summer evenings in the mountains.  In the fall, I often fish a #10 Stimulator in orange to imitate the large ginger caddis.

Whether it imitates anything or not, it catches fish and it floats well in heavier pocket water found throughout the mountains.  As one of the most popular dry flies of all time, it is available in most every fly shop in the country.

Yellow Stimulator
Hook: Daiichi 1270 #16 – #10
Thread: 8/0 orange
Tail: Stacked elk hair
Abdomen: Yellow floss
Abdomen Hackle: Brown rooster neck – palmered
Wing: Stacked elk hair
Thorax: Bright orange dubbing
Thorax Hackle: Grizzly rooster neck – palmered

Learn more about Southern Appalachian fly patterns and hatches in my Hatch Guide.