Forgotten Hatches by David Knapp

During the recent cold snap, temperatures were regularly dipping into the single digits at night. One day I walked across the road from my house to a bluff overlooking a small stream. Even though the stream does not contain trout, I was still reminded why I should be fishing even in the coldest weather. It was around 3:00 in the afternoon and the warmth of the sun had triggered a small hatch. Despite the 22 degree air temperature, a swarm of midges was dancing above the warm rock face, and a little black stonefly fluttered upwards on the breeze.    


Trout still need to eat in cold weather. Of course, their metabolism is significantly slower than it would be in warmer water. Instead of watching a fish move four feet across the stream to take your sloppy cast, the flies will have to be presented perfectly on target. Force feeding fish is the order of the day. When fish aren’t rising, you’ll need a lot of split shot to get the flies right down on the bottom. Many people don’t realize that you can find rising fish year round in Southern Appalachian streams. Anglers willing to hunt can almost always find at least a couple of risers. Even when fish aren’t rising, you can bring a few to the surface through sheer persistence.

In addition to midges and winter stoneflies, blue-winged olives and blue quills will also hatch during the colder months. Midges will hatch all year long in the park, even on the coldest days of the year. While the small morsels may not bring trout to the surface, fish will intercept the pupa as they drift in the current. Look for fish in soft water this time of year. Swarms of midges will often be dancing over the stillest water you can find in the stream.

The same rule applies to finding risers. Fish are going to expend as little energy as possible. Small pockets with back eddies are prime water for finding fish willing to eat a dry fly. A Parachute Adams is one of my favorite patterns this time of year if fishing a dry. Sometimes I will trail a midge dry or emerger behind it. The Parachute Adams is a good generic representation of many of the dark bugs that are available to fish throughout the colder months. Fish will take it for anything from a little black stonefly to a blue quill depending on what size you are fishing.

Most Smokies fishermen overlook midge hatches. That’s just fine with me, because while everyone else on the river is going fishless, I’ll be catching plenty of fish. My favorite way to fish midges is with a double nymph rig. Trail a WD-40, RS2, or Zebra Midge behind your favorite nymph pattern. I like to use a Gold-ribbed Hare’s Ear or Pheasant Tail nymph along with the midge pattern. Lots of fish will investigate the larger nymph only to see the more realistic midge pattern and eat it. Sometimes you’ll even be surprised by the fact that these fish are feeding in fairly fast water for this time of year. 

I recently was fishing streamers on Little River hoping for a big brown. As I worked my way through the first pool, I suddenly thought I saw a rise. Watching carefully, I saw it again. A fish was rising to a sparse hatch, and I was only able to chuckle at the fact that my rod was set up for fishing streamers. Next time the temperature drops, head for the Smokies. Just make sure you are prepared for the forgotten hatches.

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