June Fishing Forecast

Smoky Mountain Rainbow

Mountains

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

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

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

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

Clinch

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

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

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

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

May Fishing Forecast

Mountains

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clinch

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

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

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

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

March Fishing Forecast

Upper Abrams Creek, Tennessee
The “Cove Section”

Mountains

While weather is all over the place around here and 80 degrees in February is just as likely as snow in May, I always call March the transition month. Winter is transitioning to spring and you tend to get sample of both seasons. When folks book trips for March, I always try to warn them that it’s a gamble. Not only can temperatures change on a dime and turn the fishing off, it tends to be a wetter month, so water levels can get way out of whack.

I’ve had some fantastic fishing in March, particularly toward the latter part of the month. When the stars align, we can see some of the first good hatches of the year with fish hungry after a winter of little food. It seems that every seasoned Smokies angler is on “Quill Gordon watch!” But a big cold front can delay the hatch and can lock a trout’s mouth tight as a drum.

What will this March hold? Only time will tell. We’re sure to see some really good fishing and some lousy fishing, too. When you live around here, you can pick your days. When you’re traveling here to fish, you just have to hope you’re here on one of the upswings.

In any case, most of the month will be spent fishing nymphs. Darker patterns do the best and a #12 Olive Hares Ear (or similar) is a pretty good imitation for the Quill Gordon nymphs that should be moving about. When water temperatures get into the 50’s for a significant part of the day, a few days in a row, our dry fly fishing should start to pick up. That’s probably going to be around the third week, but who knows?

Clinch

As usual, the fishery that does have good water temperatures year round and should fish well in the winter is cranking 2+ generators 24 hours a day. Last year was a tough one on the Clinch. A very wet spring resulted in very few days of low water. Unfortunately, this year is starting out the same way. Man, every year seems to be flood or drought. Is an “average” year too much to ask for?

February Fishing Forecast

Winter Fishing Tellico
Winter Fishing

Smoky Mountains

January has been relatively mild for the most part but very wet. So water levels have been up more than they’ve been down. And even in a mild January we’re talking about water temperatures in the 40’s at best, so not exactly stellar fishing. But a few fish have been caught and the mountains look completely different in the winter, so it’s always nice to get out.

February will likely be more of the same. You never know what you’re going to get around here but February usually stays pretty cold and things don’t consistently start warming up until about mid March. I know I sound like a broken record but I do find myself having to explain this to wannabe winter fishermen more than anything else… It’s not that I’m worried about being uncomfortable in the cold. I have great gear and don’t mind the cold one bit. It’s all about the water temperature with wild fish and if that water temperature is significantly below 50-degrees, they just don’t do much feeding.

And in the winter, it takes a lot to reach those temperatures. Even when you get a couple of nice 60-degree days, the overnight lows are still often in the 30’s and your water temperature just won’t climb much. When the days get longer and the overnight lows get warmer, you’ll start to see better water temperatures and active fish!

If you do get out this month, expect to be nymphing. Go with darker patterns and try to fish them right on the bottom, focusing on pools and slower runs. Here’s a little bit on winter fishing in the mountains.

Delayed Harvest

February is the last month for Delayed Harvest streams. These stocked fish should be quite a bit more active than their wild brothers in the Smokies. However, by February, poaching has usually taken its toll and there just aren’t a lot of fish left. Nymphing will definitely be the ticket on these streams. Standard nymph patterns are worth a try and anything bright and shiny is a good bet!

Clinch River

As usual, the fishery that does have good water temperatures year round and should fish well in the winter is cranking 2+ generators 24 hours a day. Last year was a tough one on the Clinch. A very wet spring resulted in very few days of low water. Unfortunately, this year is starting out the same way. Man, every year seems to be flood or drought. Is an “average” year too much to ask for?

Deep Creek

brown trout deep creek north carolina
Deep Creek Brown

Location: GSMNP Western North Carolina                                                             Nearest Town: Bryson City, NC
Species: Rainbow, brown, and brook trout                                                              
Average Size: 8-10” (brook trout average smaller, some browns exceeding 20”)
Stream Size: Open (lower stretches) to tight (headwaters)                                                           
Pressure: Heavy (around campground), light (headwaters), moderate (in between)
Type of Water: Freestone, Mountain                                                          
Boat Access: None
Best Times: Spring and fall                                                              
Favorite Flies: Attractor dries, beadhead nymphs, stonefly nymph

Lodging:

Numerous hotels in Bryson City, NC and Cherokee, NC                                                          

Front Country Camping: Deep Creek Campground
Smokemont Campground

Backcountry Campsites #53, #54, #55, #56, #57, #58, #59, & #60

Directions: 

From Bryson City, turn from Main Street (Hwy 19) onto Everett Street.  Turn right onto Depot Street.  Depot Street bends hard to the left and becomes West Deep Creek Road.  Continue on West Deep Creek Road until you reach the campground entrance.  There are also numerous signs in Bryson City directing you toward the campground. 

Once at the campground, you will have immediate access to the stream.  To gain further upstream access, follow the Deep Creek Trail from the campground.  The trail follows the stream for approximately ten miles, providing ample stream access as well as access to numerous backcountry campsites along the way.  The first half mile of stream above the campground is designated tubing water which you’ll want to skip during season, but no tubing is permitted beyond that half mile point. 

Alternate access is also available to the top, headwater portion of Deep Creek from Newfound Gap Road (Hwy 441).  Just south of Newfound Gap, there is a pull-off at the other end of the Deep Creek Trail.  Expect to hike at least four miles to Backcountry Campsite #53 before reaching access to some of the better water.  Beware that while it is a rather simple hike in, it is a grueling uphill hike back out, particularly after a day of fishing.  Allow plenty of time to get back out and be certain you’re in good physical condition before attempting. 

Gold Ribbed Hares Ear

Gold Ribbed Hares Ear
Gold Ribbed Hares Ear

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.

black beadhead flashback hares ear
Beadhead Flashback Hares Ear – Black

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)

November Fishing Forecast

Fall Smoky Mountain Brook Trout
Beautiful Autumn Brook Trout

Mountains

October was kind of the tale of two seasons around here. We started the month still in a drought and record high temperatures in the 90’s. Cooler temperatures arrived mid month and finally a little rain. As I’m writing this (10/30) we’re in the midst of receiving what should total about 2″ of rain and I may have to cancel a couple of trips due to high water! All or nothing weather patterns sure seem to be the new norm.

November will start off with our first freezing temperatures of the year but start getting milder in the first week. I’m hoping for a mild November and then I’m ready for a cold winter this year! November typically sees cold mornings and mild afternoons. The best fishing in the park will be in the afternoons and in lower elevations. Delayed Harvest streams outside the park should fish okay all day.

For the patient and persistent, November is a good time to pursue large pre and post spawn browns in the Smokies – I prefer to leave them alone when they are actually spawning. These are not “numbers days.” You spend a lot of time looking and not fishing so, it’s definitely not for everyone. I know I’ve personally spent more of these NOT catching fish than catching. But on the days when it does come together, it’s pretty spectacular!

And this is definitely not beginner level stuff. If and when you do get a shot at one of these fish, you usually don’t get a second chance at anything so you need to be stealthy and you need to be able to cast.

For those not wanting the torture of stalking big browns, fishing the lower elevation streams for rainbows should be pretty productive. Expect some afternoon surface activity on sporadic caddis and BWO hatches. Otherwise, Pheasant Tail and Prince nymphs should do the trick.

Clinch River

This year, I feel like I could just copy and paste the same forecast every month for the Clinch. There has just been no rhyme or reason to their generation schedules this year. Out of nowhere, you’ll get four or five days of good water. Then, with no change in weather conditions they’ll generate 27/7 for three weeks straight.

My only recommendation here is to monitor the water releases. If you find a favorable schedule, go and fish Zebra Midges and small Pheasant Tails.

West Prong Little River

west prong little river
West Prong Little River

Location: GSMNP East Tennessee                          

Nearest Town: Townsend, TN

Species: Rainbow trout                                            

Average Size: 6”

Stream Size: Moderate                                           

Pressure: 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

Camping:      

Little River Campground
Cades Cove Campground
Backcountry Campsite #17

Directions: 

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.