Insects and other foods the trout may be eating:
1. Blue-winged Olives
3. Sculpin, Minnows (Streamers)
Fishing Cold Water - Part 14
One cold water fishing trip that will always stand out in my memory took place two miles or
more above the Sugarland area of the park near the last pulloff and trail. This is before
reaching the unmarked trails where the road is much higher than the stream a good ways on
up the mountain. We choose it because it was cold that day and we knew the higher up the
Little Pigeon River we went, the colder the water would be. That was February 11th, 2006.
The water temperature was 43 degrees. We started fishing about 11:30 according to the
Angie took the first shot at fishing and according to the video log and journal, she used a
hook size 18 Hares Ear Nymph. I did not record whether she used a strike indicator or not, but
my guess is she did. I didn't take the time to find the video but I feel sure she did just because
it was her habit to do that until just three or four years ago. It took me a few years to convince
her to fish without one. Her normal procedure was to set the height of the indicator to where
the nymph touched the bottom.
She caught 27 rainbow trout that day, all in that same section of the stream and although I
didn't note it on the journal, I still can remember that she caught as many as three or four out
of the same pools in several different areas along the stream. According to my notes, none of
them were over eight inches long and they averaged about five inches long. I did record the
length of time we (she) fished and it was about four hours. There was nothing hatching. I
didn't note as much as seeing midges. I never fished that day. I just kelp running the video
camera and letting her keep fishing.
That section of stream has a lot of short plunges and some long pools that are generally not
as deep as those further up the stream a mile or so below the Chimneys Picnic area. She
usually casts the fly in the head of the pools and let it drift all the way down the pool until it
starts to hang on the bottom. I couldn't believe the number of trout she was catching. That's
the most I can find in 2006 logs or remember her catching in water that was in the low forties,
but there are many, many other times she caught a lot of trout from cold water.
Without looking it up, one place I remember vividly was right below the bridge at the back
parking lot of the park's Sugarland Welcome Center. She caught several one day from that
one stretch of less than fifty yards long. We stopped there a few more times and although she
didn't catch as many, she always caught a few from the one big pool just below the bridge. By
the way, those at the Welcome Center bridge were not stocked trout that had moved
upstream from Gatlinburg. They were wild rainbow trout. At times we have caught stocked
trout further downstream that had made their way inside the park. The difference in the fish is
very, very obvious.
That same year later on in February, I noticed that we both, fishing one at a time, caught 32
rainbows in the Middle Prong of Little River in the stretch just above the end of the paved
road section. We had one that measured eleven inches that day. The water temperature was
41 degrees at 1:00 PM that day. Those were all taken on a hook size 18 Prince Nymph. She
used an indicator and I didn't. It's interesting to note that I cannot find a day we caught more
than that during the Quill Gordon hatch that same year.
Keep in mind I only looked at the logs during the winter of 2006. There have been many other
days we have caught lots of rainbows and some browns when the water was that cold. We
don't normally do as well as we did on the trips I just wrote about but we have caught a dozen
or so on numerous occasions when the water was in the low forties. Over the nine year time
span we have fished the Smokies since we moved here, I'm sure there were days we caught
that many or at least close to that many trout when the water was in the low forties. I didn't find
any more in 2006 but there have been days we have caught rainbows in the Smokies when
he water was in the high thirties, although it was usually very few.
As I have previously written in this series, there's a very steep curve representing the decline
in the way the fish react from 40 degrees down to 35 degrees. The changes that occur as the
water becomes colder and colder are exponential. At 35 degrees the fish may not even be
able to survive. I do know largemouth bass won't survive very long at that water temperature.
I'm not sure about trout because I've never been able to test that or find where anyone else
did. The differences in the range I just mentioned are huge. It's probably ten to fifty times the
difference in how the change occurs in the 5 degree increment from 45 down to 40 degrees.
Remember, the amount of food the trout eat in cold water versus warmer water isn't
really a direct factor in catching them. Fishing for fish you can't see that are holding in
isolated areas usually in deeper water and often on the bottom in areas beneath fast water
where the current is slow reduces your ability to get a fly in close to the trout like it must be
presented to get them to eat it. They only need to eat one fly to catch them and if presented
right, they will do that in cold water.
There have been days when we only caught three or four trout and even days we have
blanked and failed to catch any from very cold water. Normally, in those cases, we just were
not persistent enough. I can assure you that we didn't find the fish, or if we did, we didn't
present the fly close and slow enough to them to eat it. That same year the logs show when
we didn't catch but a very few trout, we only fished for an hour or two.
By the way, you can also catch brook trout from water that very cold. We have caught them
on nymphs in water as cold as forty degrees during the few times we have tried.
We will not have an article for the next two days. Tuesday or Wednesday, I will continue
with the "Strategy Series"., or otherwise continue with the cold water series. I will be getting
into the details of how you go about finding and presenting flies to fish in cold water. Believe it
or not, the fact that anglers themselves feel cold is a huge factor in their ability (confidence) to
catch them. The single biggest factor of all, is they simply don't fish cold water. Before I
started fly fishing just about exclusively for trout in 1998, I already had 18 years of making my
living from fishing, as well as an additional 5 years of fishing the professional BASS circuit. I
didn't pay anyone any attention that tried to tell me when I could and when I couldn't catch any
species of fish. I don't really mean this the way it probably reads, but I was already light years
ahead of most others that fish for trout. I had learned many years before, that unlike the
armchair writers and egotistical anglers, the fish always tell the truth.
Copyright 2011 James Marsh