Townsend, Tennessee - Fly Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, East Tennessee and Western North Carolina

Welcome to the Fishing Report.  The skies are blue and the temperature is 42 degrees in Townsend this morning.  This is going to be a beautiful day, not normal for the third week in November.  The high today should be in the mid-60’s.  And tomorrow, they National Weather Service reports an expected high of 67 degrees.  Wow.

Water flow in Little River is 110 cubic feet per second (cfs).  Median flow for this date is 173 cfs.  The water is very clear.  So, that’s the bad news.  The good news is, the water is warming.  At 7:45 am the water temperature in Little River was 45.3 degrees. The water will be even warmer later today and warmer than that tomorrow.

Fishing is improving due to the warmer water.  Fishing is more challenging due to the lower water.  So, what should you do?

Well, for one thing you need to be very careful when approaching the pool, run or riffle where you intend to fish.  Don’t let those fish see you.  They have the advantage right now.  But, they are also wary about hanging out in the pools.  The slightest abnormal movement will send them swimming for cover.  I wouldn’t even try fishing in the pools unless the fish you see is worth a lot of time and effort to sneak up on them.  The brown trout are ending their spawn, at least in the lower elevations.  So, being as hungry as they are, they are seeking food.  They might be in the pools.  Good luck.

I would fish the riffles and since the sun will be shining it might be a good idea to fish the smaller shaded waters.  Hike into the backcountry.  Walk above Elkmont for instance.  Sneak up on the riffles and deep runs. 

Nymphs would be my choice due to the time of the year.  Abnormal high temperatures might change that notion.  Try a dry fly.  Make it a Blue Wing Olive.  If you have trouble seeing that, try a Elk Hair Caddis. 

For nymphs it’s hard to beat a Prince or Pheasant Tail.  Fishing patterns without beads are a good idea when the water is low and clear.  A gold bead might be a little too flashy for these wild trout.

If you are fishing in the stocked water in Townsend, I would use a Olive Wooly Bugger.  I sold some to a fellow yesterday that have rubber legs.  I know those stocked rainbows will hit them.  Fishing for the stocked trout has been very good and that will continue for a while. 

You might have some luck fishing for smallmouth in the lower Little River or the Little Pigeon.  If this were Spring and the water was at the temperature we are seeing now, I would go.  I might not expect much.  Smallmouth bass are fairly lethargic when the water is 50 degrees or lower. 

That brings up a story, something Lynn Hayes and I talked about this week.  Lynn is an avid smallmouth bass angler and he’s good at it.  He’s good at trout too.

Lynn and I were talking about the “float n fly” method of fishing for bass during the cold months in the lakes.  The float n fly method was actually invented and developed in Tennessee on Dale Hollow Lake.  This method utilizes a spinning rod, a float and a small jig.  The float may be attached to the leader 10’ or 15’ above the fly.  The rig is retrieved very slowly and sometime not retrieved at all.  Casting that rig must be tough.  When these guys do hook a fish, the bobber keeps them from reeling in all the way.  Landing the fish takes two people, one with a long net.  To aid in the casting and landing of the fish, the angler typically uses a long spinning rod.

Here is why it works.  When the water temperature in lakes drop below 50 degrees, the smallmouth bass become lethargic, the appetite is impaired and they suspend in deep water, 10’ to 20’ deep.  They will eat though.  Shad are in peril.  The colder water is slowly causing their demise.  When the water temperature reaches 40 degrees, most threadfin shad die.  Enough make it through the winter to spawn and they spawn huge numbers of offspring.  But during the winter, they are roaming around trying to find warmer water to survive.

Evidently, if a suspended smallmouth sees a lethargic threadfin shad close-by, and an all out attack is not necessary, the bass will eat the shad.  Bingo, a new fishing method was born that works extremely well, especially for big bass.

Most of us fly anglers put the smallmouth bass gear and our boats away for the winter.  But maybe, there is a lesson to be learned from those who fish with conventional tackle.  Of course there is. 

I placed a Wapsi order yesterday for fly tying materials.  I added some jig head hooks to the order, for me and Lynn.  A jig head hook has the eye located on top.  So, when the fly is suspended under a float, it is positioned like a fish that is suspended.  I’m thinking, since our lakes are so clear, the fly should be lifelike.  The most lifelike threadfin shad pattern I’ve seen is made using Puglisi EP fibers with eyes glued on.  The fly is colored with markers to make it appear like the real thing. 

Since we are using fly rods, we have the length, 9 feet or longer.  We can cast a 10’ to 15’ leader with no problems.  Instead of a float, we have strike indicators.  Lots of fly fishermen use strike indicators. But, we also have access to some large indicators, large enough to float with a weighted jig trying to pull it under.  So there you go, problem solved.  We are fly fishing, during the winter, for smallmouth bass and catching the heck out of them.

Hold on!  I have not tried to cast a 15 foot leader, with a 1/8 oz jig tied on one end and a large strike indicator placed on the very end of the leader butt.  You would certainly have to lay the rig on the water behind you and cast forward, letting the water behind you provide the friction necessary to load your rod.  I don't think false casting will work. I’m going to try it.  I may be pulling Puglisi jigs out of my backside.  Painful as that might be, I’m not discouraged at all. 

Is that cheating?  Is that really fly fishing?  Some would say yes, some would say no and others wouldn’t care one way or the other.  I fall in category #3 though I would draw the line by not spraying a “shad scent” on the fly.  I do want to extend the smallmouth bass fishing season on our lakes and I think this is a way to do just that while still using a fly rod.  I’ll let you know if it works or fails.  I wonder if this would work in a tailwater with current for trout or smallies?  You wouldn’t need a 15’ leader either.   

Have a great day and thank you for being here with us.  Have a great Thanksgiving!  We will be closed tomorrow and I won’t be writing this report.  See you Friday.

Byron Begley
November 21, 2012

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