Smokies Stream

“The fishing was a little slow” and “It must have been the front that came through” are just a couple of the excuses that we like to use as fisherman. When I have a slow day, I console myself by blaming it on the fish, the weather, or the lack of a good hatch. However, with just a little planning and some flexibility, it is possible to have good fishing on a regular basis.

How many times have you planned on going fishing with good intentions to get up early and hit the stream before the heat of the day only to sleep in late? In the summer this can be the difference between a good day and an average to slow day. If you enjoy sleeping in like me, you probably have a hard time getting up too early sometimes. This is especially true if you can only fish on weekends which also probably happen to be the only days you can sleep in during the week. If you are getting on the stream by 9 or 10 in the morning, you might be missing out on the best action of the day. Trout feeding cycles are largely driven by water temperatures during the summer. The coolest water temperatures on a freestone trout stream will be early in the morning. Cool water means more oxygen and the fish will be much more active.
Brown Trout 

On tailwaters the temperatures will not fluctuate as much throughout the day as they do on a freestone stream. Trout in tailwaters will tend to feed a lot more throughout the day, but there is another problem with fishing midday which applies not only to tailwaters but to trout in freestone streams in the mountains as well. Trout need food and shelter from predators as well as calm water to rest in. During the summer when the sun is directly overhead, fish will often head to deeper water where they feel safer from predators. The flash of a fly line overhead or the slap of the line on the water will spook the trout. In fact, on rivers like the Caney Fork, I’ve seen fish spook from the leader drifting overhead. When the sun is directly overhead during the peak of summer, fish will often be quite hard to catch.

Once again, fishing early can eliminate this problem. Fish will often feed heavier early and late on tailwaters during the peak summer months. Aquatic insects are often much more active early in the day as well with the best midge hatches early in the day. The big exception to this in Tennessee is the Sulphur hatch on rivers like the South Holston and the Clinch and the Isonychias on the Hiwassee. While fish will feed heavily during these hatches, they will often be very spooky requiring long leaders and light tippets.

Another good reason to fish early is because you will be the first person on the water for the day. Many people wait until early afternoon to fish. Try arriving on the stream at Elkmont around 2:00 in the afternoon. You will probably fish an hour or two and leave wondering where all the fish are. By that point in the day, there is an excellent chance that several other people have already fished through the same stretch of water. The fish have moved deep due to the harsh mid-summer sun and constant parade of anglers. Most people who fish under these conditions will leave thinking that fishing is terrible. However, the first person to have fished that stretch early in the morning probably caught 20 or 30 fish with some approaching 12 or more inches.
Rainbow Trout 

While fishing early in the day will put you on the water during optimum water conditions, fishing late in the evening will often provide the best hatches. Last summer, I almost always fished in the evening after getting off work at Little River Outfitters. Normally this means I was on the water by 6:00 P.M. and fished until it started getting dark and legal fishing hours were over. As the light started getting dim, the fish started moving higher in the water column and back into prime feeding lies. During this time of day, a Yellow Sally or Light Cahill pattern fished through the pools and pockets will produce a lot of strikes.

Ideally, the perfect fishing plan during the summer months would be fishing the first 4 hours of daylight and the last 3-4 hours. This is not always possible and fishing during the day can still produce lots of fish. However, increasing your odds is all about fishing during prime conditions. Next month I’ll discuss more of those prime conditions and how to go about planning a fishing trip based on them.

Finally, I have one last word about when to fish. Remember that while the fishing may be easiest during the early and late hours, that does not mean you cannot catch fish throughout the day. The well prepared fisherman will have flies to match whatever the fish will be feeding on throughout the day. During the summer when hatches are sparse, this will often mean having a good supply of terrestrial patterns including ants, beetles, inchworms, and even hoppers. A careful examination of the types of bugs crawling around on the bank will tell you what patterns to throw throughout the day when hatches are at a minimum. Careful observation is always one of the biggest keys to success as a fly fisherman…


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