Insects and other foods the trout should be eating:
1. BWOs (Little and Eastern BWOs)
2. Little Yellow Quills
3. Little Yellow Stoneflies
4. Slate Drakes
5. Needle Stoneflies
6. Mahogany Duns
Most available/ Other types of food:
7. Sculpin, Minnows (Streamers)
Fly Fishing Strategy - Which Fly To Use - Coming Week
Remember: The key is to imitate the insects and or other food that's most available and easiest for
the trout to acquire.
I found last year's article quite similar to this week in terms of stream and weather conditions. We
did get a lot more rain about this time last year but the fundamentals will be the same should it rain
more today and/or this coming weekend. All the streams are still low but recent rains has helped
them retain a slightly better level than they have been. Little River is flowing at 57 cfs, Oconaluftee
at 249 cfs and Cataloochee at 39. Although it may look that way, that doesn't mean that
Oconaluftee is flowing a lot stronger than the other two streams. These numbers can be
misleading unless you become familiar with the USGS stream flow charts.
This weeks weather is also similar. We have a 40 percent chance of rain for tomorrow and then the
odds stays low until the weekend when a good chance of rain returns. Although I love fishing the
low levels, we need more rain to insure they don't get too low. Here's last year's strategy article just
For the next few days, the recent and continuing rain changes the overall strategy of the methods that should be
used for fishing and of course, doing that changes "what fly to use". The controlling factors are water levels and
even more importantly, the water clarity. I drove down to check out the Little Pigeon River and as expected, it was
very high and muddy. The water inside the park will clear up much faster and isn't a dingy as what I looked at near
the spur because the stream flows through Gatlinburg just outside the park. The runoff from the parking lots and
streets of Gatlinburg greatly effects the extent the water is stained or in this case, muddy would be a more accurate
description at the present tome. The rainfall we received so far is great and just what we needed to help the low
water situation. The rain will continue throughout today but they are not expecting it to increase to the point it will
The idea situation is to start fishing when the water is falling. This concentrates the locations of the fish to the
places the water is draining back into the normal streambed. In this situation, the rivers are not out of the banks. I
am strictly going by the Oconaluftee and Cataloochee USGS data on the North Carolina side of the park. I have not
seen the streams since the rain. This isn't to say that you can't catch trout when the water is rising, because you
can. It's just that the falling water tends to concentrate the trout where food is washing into the stream. Many
different species of terrestrial larvae that normally isn't in the water will be washed in by the heavy rain or more
particularly, where it drains into the streams.
If I wanted to fish today, I would definitely fish streamers that imitate baitfish or sculpin. The stained water brings
the larger brown trout out from their normal hiding places. In cases where the water is draining back into the
streams, one of the items of food to wash into the water will be cranefly larvae. We have done well using out
Perfect Fly Cranefly larva fly under these high water conditions by fishing this fly in the areas of water where it's
draining back into the streams. The trout will normally concentrate on these areas because the water draining into
the streams provides a continuous stream of food. I would not recommend this fly as long as the water is rising. I
would use streamers when the water is rising as well as when it's falling.
Fish in lakes will move to the banks when the water is rising and away from the banks when the water is falling.
Trout don't respond that way. They will continue to search the banks for food that has gotten into the water because
of the high water levels even when it's falling.
The dingier the water, the brighter you want the fly to be. Yellow, chartreuse and white are good colors to use in
heavily stained water. The ideal situation is you want the fly to standout enough in contrast with the water to be
seen, but not seen well enough for the fish to determine it's not something to eat. This situation changes
constantly with the clarity of the water and the light conditions. If it's cloudy or overcast or near dark or daylight,
there's a lot less visibility in the water. As the water clears, you want to adjust the shades of color of the streamer
This is difficult to describe in words, but i toss the streamer in the water near the bank and observe just how well I
can clearly see it. For example, if you can clearly see it four feet deep, you probably need to use a less visible color
of fly. If you can't see it in two feet of water, it needs to be more visible. This isn't the exact view the fish will get, but it
gives you a quick idea of which way to adjust the contrast. Sometimes the water will fool you. It can be clearer than
it looks and of course, just the opposite at times. Tannic acid (tea colored water from vegetation and leaves) can
make the water clarity very deceptive. It's always much clearer than it looks.
Both our yellow and white Perfect Fly Marabou Sculpin are good flies to use in high, stained water. We also have
several colors and sizes of Wooly buggers, Clousers, and Zonkers that are priced very low. These are all good
streamers to select from.
I normally will be writing this strategy article each Tuesday of each week for the next year. In this case, the strategy
will change as the water levels and clarity change, so I will be updating it every couple of days or so. Right now, you
need to take advantage of the stained water and use streamers. The streams cannot be waded safely at this time
and probably not for at least the next couple of days or longer. That means fishing from the banks and streamers
is the best way to go.
Back to the current situation:
Notice, I revised the list of insects and other foods at the top of this page. I added the Little Yellow
Quills. I spotted a couple of two weekends ago. They will hatch off and on in the middle to higher
elevations for the next couple of months. I also added the Needle Stoneflies. They are already
showing up on the higher elevation streams and will become very plentiful in the near future.
Notice that I changed the Little Yellow Stonefly entry to show the normal species that are called
Yellow Sallies in the Smokies. They are not a true Yellow Sally but very close to it. Prior to that, I
was showing the Little Yellow Stoneflies as Summer Stones, which are wider, fater versions that are
not very plentiful.
The Slate Drakes and Mahogany Duns will continue to hatch randomly in the middle to lower
elevations. The majority will be Mahogany Duns for now. Later on at the end of this month and on
into October, the Slate Drakes will again become more plentiful but so will the Mahogany Duns.
As it has been for some time, the most plentiful and available nymphs and/or larvae will continue to
be Blue-winged Olives. These will be a hook size 20 and 18 until the Fall Baetis genus species
begin to hatch. They are 16's. Imitations of these little swimming BWO nymphs will still offer
the highest odds of success. There's more of them in the water than anything the trout can get
too fairly easy. A late afternoon hatch of Little Yellow Stoneflies can change that quickly. So can a
good hatch of Mahogany Duns in the low elevations. The problem with them has been high water
temperatures. They often hatch where the water is a little too warm (low oxygen content) for the
trout to feed well. Except and unless you find a good Little Yellow Stonefly hatch, again this is late
in the day (not adults that previously hatched flying around but hatch), then a Blue-winged Olive
nymph imitation is your best choice. Fish it up until you see them (BWOs) or Mahogany Duns begin
to hatch. Don't change flies until you do find something hatching. This will give you the very
highest odds of success provided, of course, you make good presentations and do other things
right. Fish them without indicators for the best results. Don't fish them as a dropper. That will lower
you odds. If the water is higher than it is now, you may go to the high stick method, but for now the
low water conditions make that impractical in most places.
Notice I said highest odds of success meaning numbers of trout. You may still prefer to fish a dry
fly. There's nothing wrong with it. It will provide more fun for most anglers but you can expect less
overall success with the dries unless there's a hatch taking place.
If your fishing the middle to higher elevations, you may find a Needle Stonefly hatch taking place
late in the day. If you do, switch to a Needle Stonefly nymph imitation. They crawl out and hatch out
of the water. They are hook size 18.
You may also find some Little Yellow Quills hatching but it is still a little early for them. If you do,
switch from the nymph to an emerger or dun pattern.
Very late in the day, the last hour or two of daylight, you may find some mayfly spinners and/or
stoneflies laying eggs. If so, switch to a spinner pattern of the particular mayfly or an adult imitation
of the stonefly, Little Yellow or Needle, depending.
Now, if the streams get high, off color or stained, you should go to a streamer. That's well covered
in last years strategy above. Also, it can put a lot of terrestrials in the water, so keep that in mind.
As you can gather from the above, the insects available for the trout to eat will vary depending on
the elevation of the stream you are fishing. The lower elevations may be still to warm but the
cooler weather will help put them back into play soon. The insects in the high elevation brook trout
streams are different than those in the middle or lower elevation streams due to the pH of the water
which varies the type of food available for the insects to eat.
Once you learn to fish using a logical strategy, versus trial and error methods, you will
see your catch improve considerably. More importantly, you will see it become much more
Again, as I have previously written many times, not catching a trout on a given fly for a couple of
hours, then changing the fly to a different one and catching a couple of trout within that same time
frame may seem like the fish are telling you what to do but they really aren't. It may seem like the
second fly is more productive but the facts are, that's completely meaningless and worthless data.
You may well have caught 4 trout on the fly you started with if you hadn't changed it. Such trial and
error may seem like it's helping you out, but it really isn't. There's many, many more important
factors other than the fly you are using that can affect the results of such an approach. The results
of such trial and error methods are completely worthless.
The more you know about the trout themselves and the food the trout rely on to survive,
the better you can imitate that food and fool the trout into taking your fly. It's as simple as
that. Otherwise, your just 100% relying on pure luck.
Copyright 2012 James Marsh