Insects and other foods the trout should be eating:
1. BWOs (Little and baetis BWOs)
2. Little Yellow Quills
3. Slate Drakes
4. Needle Stoneflies
Most available/ Other types of food:
5. Sculpin, Minnows (Streamers)
Fly Fishing Strategies - Which Fly To Use - Coming Week
It didn't take the National Weather Service long to change the forecast for yesterday. I wrote
yesterday's article early in the morning and almost as soon as it was published, they dropped the
forecast of one to two inches or rain. According to the stream flow data, there has only been a
small amount of precipitation in the form of rain. I can understand that. They did an excellent job in
predicting exactly what the big storm would do. Predicting the amount of rainfall that would occur
on the outer bands of the huge area of low pressure had to be very difficult.
It is still dark outside as I am writing this and I won't be able to see the mountains until later on in
the morning. I'm also guessing that highway 441 will be closed until later in the morning. The park's
weather station updates are posted so late in the day they are completely worthless in this regard.
My guess is there's going to be quite a bit of snow in the higher elevations today. The TV weather
channel is showing 22 inches of snow at Newfound Pass and that was as of yesterday afternoon.
This morning they are showing 22 inches of snow at Gatlinburg which I don't think is true. Maybe
they mean at the snow ski area but even that is questionable. The National Weather Service is
showing 40 inches of snow on LeConte as of this morning. I think that is accurate. I have a good
reason for wanting to know. The amount of snow that will be melting will definitely affect the
water temperature of the streams.
The forecast was also off a little on the low temperatures that were predicted earlier in the week
That's also understandable. It is going to be warmer than expected a day or two ago. The high for
Friday in Gatlinburg is now predicted to be 61. Saturday should be even warmer with a high of 67.
This may all turn out to be good (melting snow and warm air temperatures) because water
temperatures in the high forties to mid fifties are good for the brown trout spawn and the
blue-winged olive baetis species, the major aquatic insect species still remaining to hatch this year.
I was out in the lower section of the park a couple of times this week during the afternoon. I only
fished a few minutes in a few places but did rather well each time. I did spot some brown trout on
redds spawning in two different locations. I certainly hope you will be responsible enough to leave
them alone if you do find any trying to reproduce. Many places in the nation brown trout are either
off limits for known spawning ground areas or the season is closed during the spawn.
We have enough non-caring jerks that want to boost their egos showing photos of big
trout that will do doing everything they can to catch spawning browns knowing they are
adversely affecting the big trout's abilities to spawn successfully. They are experts -
experts at spinning their unsportsmanlike actions with what amounts to outright lies. I
hope none of you will want join in on the abuse.
As always, I'll post last year's strategy article for this same week.
I know that some of you think my strategy series articles are all beginning to look like
the same recommendations from week to week. At this particular time of the year,
that's not far from being true. You have to remember that most all of the aquatic
insects have already hatched. I guess it would be more accurate to say the bulk of the
aquatic insects have hatched. "Most all" could indicate numbers and that could be
deceptive. Midges will be hatching all through the winter and as a matter of fact, most
every month of the year. In terms of numbers they rank high but in terms of
representing the bulk of trout food, they rank low as compared to many other trout
streams that are more suitable for midges.
Most midge larvae are burrowers and require a soft bottom. Soft bottoms aren't that
plentiful in the streams of the Smokies. There's always some areas of the streams that
have a soft bottom but it's small in comparison to hard bottom. Midges are hatching
now and should probably be included in the above list at this time. The reason we
haven't yet included them is that we don't want to place emphasis on them just yet.
When the water gets cold and remains cold most of the day, we will. It got pretty cold
this past weekend but warmed up during the day and at this time of the year, there's
still plenty of larger insects available for the trout to eat. You can catch trout right now
on imitations of midges. It is just that the trout are not concentrating on them nearly as
much as they will when the water is cold and there's little else food that's readily
available for them to eat.
The insects that hatched during March through June, or during the four months that
have the most hatches in terms of quantities of insects, are now not even half grown.
Remember, they spend some time as an egg and then hatch (and in this sense hatch
is used correctly) into their larval stage of life. As nymphs and larvae, they molt
several times and grow throughout the year. At the present time the average nymph
or larvae is less than half grown.
There's yet another important fact about the insects in the streams of the Smokies.
The majority are clingers. There's few crawlers, not as many swimmers as there are in
most trout streams, and very few burrowers. The clingers stay hidden down between
and under the rocks and are not as easy for the trout to find and eat as the crawlers
and swimmers. If you look at the mass of the food in the streams in terms of aquatic
insects, that means the majority of the nymphs and larvae are not readily available for
the trout to eat until they begin to expose themselves to hatch.
The main point I'm getting to in the past two paragraphs, is that those few insects that
are available and plentiful for the trout to eat at this time of the year become even
more important than other insects during the times they are very plentiful. With water
temperatures ranging in the fifties, the trout need a lot of food. In the forties, the need
drops quite a bit but at the current time of year, the water temperatures probably will
average more in the low fifties than the forties. When the water temperature is in the
thirties, the trout need only a small amount of food. In other words, it all works out
rather well. At the same time there's a low requirement for food, there's a low
quantity of food readily available for the trout to eat. Again, remember the bulk
of the aquatic insects are clingers and the trout can't catch and eat clinger nymphs
(clinger mayflies and stoneflies, which are all clingers) very easily until they expose
themselves to hatch.
Sunday's Fishing: Please keep in mind I am detailing this trip only to show how I
approach fishing, not for anyone to copy what I did. Everything depends on the
stream and usually even the exact location on the stream. It also greatly depends on
the exact time of day. Furthermore, this all changes day to day with changes in water
temperature. It also changes day to day and even hour to hour or less, with changes
in light conditions. Of course, as the days go by, changes occur in all environmental
conditions The species you are targeting also changes the strategy you should use.
Fishing success always depend on one being able to adjust to continuously
changing conditions. That's why attempting to copy someone else is very poor
I hope you read my article yesterday. This will make more sense if you did. Sunday, I
started fishing at around 1:00 PM on the Oconaluftee River near where it first begins
to appear along the highway headed down the mountain from Newfound Pass. I didn't
even get a fly tied on before noticing some Blue-winged Olives. These were obviously
baetis, so I tied on a size 18 Perfect Fly BWO dun. Latter I also noticed some smaller
BWOs hatching. Within five minutes I hooked and released the first rainbow. I stopped
and moved to a different pull off along the road and searched the water for browns. I
did the same thing at two other places but without fishing. I didn't find any.
I turned around and headed back up to about the middle section of Walkers Camp
Prong. I climbed in the water and fished about two minutes using the same fly before
noticing Little Yellow Quill duns that had obviously just hatched. I tied on a size 16
Perfect Fly Little Yellow Quill Dun and caught a small rainbow within the first five
minutes. About ten minutes later, I caught a brook trout. I stopped fishing there and
proceeded down the mountain to the Chimney Trailhead parking area at the very
upper end of the Little Pigeon River where I cut though just below the bridge.
I should also mention that I spotted a couple of Little Needle Stoneflies on Walkers
Camp Prong. They had obviously hatched some time within the last few days.
Stoneflies can live a few days out of the water. At some point near dark, most likely
you would see them laying eggs. If so, you should fish an imitation of them late in the
day. By the way, they look just like caddisflies, more so than the normal stoneflies
you're used to seeing.
The water in that area was just a little too high for me to wade very well in my cut
through area below the Chimney Trailhead Bridge. I couldn't get around very well in
that area. There were a few Little Yellow Quills hatching there also. It took about thirty
minutes of fishing and fighting the water, but I finally hooked a small rainbow. I didn't
make another cast because I wanted to fish other locations and I really didn't have
much choice wading wise.
I moved from there all the way to Little River just upstream from the turnout to
Elkmont. I watched the water for a few minutes looking for browns and hatches without
seeing either. I changed flies to a size 18 BWO Nymph. I didn't do that because I
wanted to try another fly. I did it because I wanted to imitate what was the most
available and most plentiful insect in the water at that time and that was Blue-winged
Olive nymphs. I didn't fish over five minutes before hooking a rainbow. Again, I
stopped fishing and left to fish yet another stream. On recent stops to this same area,
I usually pick up at least one brown to every couple of rainbows and I feel sure I would
have been able to do the same thing Sunday if I had continued to fish. I didn't see
anything hatching or that had hatched. Most likely BWOs had already hatched.
I proceeded to the Middle Prong of Little Pigeon River, using a back street way
around Gatlinburg. There I fished an area of the Pigeon about a mile above the
Porter's Creek Bridge. This entire upper part of the stream up to and a ways above
the trailhead usually has lots of willing rainbows. I continued with the same fly, the
BWO nymph, not noticing anything hatching. Later, I did see some very small Little
BWO spinners dancing above the water. They hadn't fell, so I stuck with the nymph. In
one section consisting of a fairly long run followed by a short riffle, I was able to catch
three rainbows within thirty minutes. I didn't have to wade. I caught them all from the
I hope this helps those of you that want to learn to consistently catch more trout. You
won't ever do it using trial and error. You won't ever do it copying other anglers success.
You can easily improve your success by first becoming familiar with the different
species of trout and the food they rely on to survive; learning to recognize what food
is most plentiful and most available; and finally how to best imitate its looks and
Suggested Strategies for the Coming Week:
The water temperature is going to be rather low even in the lower elevations and even during the
weekend. This will be due to the lower average air temperature for the next day or two and the
melting snow. I suggest fishing the lower elevations at least until this weekend. The middle
elevations may be in good shape by this weekend.
If you want a shot at a large brown trout, you should fish a streamer, especially early in the
morning and very late in the day. Flies that imitate sculpin like the Perfect Fly Brown Sculpin and
flies that imitate baitfish should be the most effective streamers. Most of the brown trout are yet to
be in the actual spawning stage and may be caught on streamers. Just please leave the trout you
may find holding on redds alone.
Otherwise, start out fishing a Blue-winged Olive nymph in a hook size 16 or 18. This would imitate
the most plentiful and available food present at this time. Most of the BWO nymphs will be a size
18. I would prefer a size 18 because only the female of one larger baetis species would be close to
a hook size 16. Fish the nymph until you see something hatching and then switch to an emerger or
dun pattern depending on the water temperature. A good rule of thumb is to only fish the dry fly
imitations when the water is above about fifty degrees. Even though these BWOs will hatch in water
colder than that, the trout are often reluctant to take them from the surface. In this situation, an
emerger imitation fished from the bottom to near the surface usually works much better during the
hatch. The insects will hatch during the warmest part of the day and in much larger quantities when
the sky is overcast or cloudy than when it is clear. .
By the way, these nymphs should be fished in the marginal slow to moderate water adjacent to or
nearby the fast water, not in the fast water. The nymphs are swimmers that hold in the slower to
moderate water, not fast water. It is easy to spook trout feeding on the nymphs that are about to
hatch because they often are located in shallower water. The shallower water combined with the
slower speed of the water tends to create a situation where the trout are easily spooked. They
tend to dart into the areas where the nymphs are holding, grab and nymph and quickly retreat to
deeper water. It will help if you use lighter, longer leaders, make longer cast and delicate
If you find Slate Drake shucks on the banks and rocks along the stream, late in the day you should
try fishing an imitation of the Slate Drake nymph. These are larger swimming nymphs that crawl out
of the water late in the afternoon and evenings to hatch. Watch for spinners laying eggs late in the
afternoon. If so, fish an imitation of the Slate Drake Spinner.
In the lower and middle elevations you may find some Great Autumn Brown Sedges that hatched in
previous days. These large caddisflies hatch during the late afternoons just before dark and
during the evenings. The females lay their eggs late in the afternoons. If you find them, fish an
imitation of their larva late in the day and imitations of the adult when and if you see any egg laying
activity. They are big insects and you can easily see them.
This weekend, when the water is warmer, you may want to fish the middle elevations and possibly
the higher elevations. In this case you may find Little Yellow Quills hatching. They too will hatch
during the warmest time of the day which will probably be around 1:00 PM. The water will need to
be in the lower to middle fifties for these mayflies to hatch. If they do hatch, watch for a spinner fall
that would take place an hour or two before dark. Switch to a spinner imitation if and when that
Also, in the middle and higher elevations you may see Needle Stoneflies that hatched during
previous days. These little 18 hook size stoneflies look like big caddisflies in flight. The nymphs
crawl out of the water very late in the day and evenings to hatch. If you find the adults around the
stream, be sure to fish an imitation of the nymph late in the afternoon. If you see any egg laying
activity (also occurs late in the day), switch to an adult imitation.
If you follow these strategies and stick to the plan, refusing to change flies resorting to trial and
error, you should be successful in catching a good number of trout. If you fail to catch trout, it
won't be the fly your using. The problem will be something else. Your either spooking the
trout or failing to present the fly in the right type of water in a way that imitates the insect's natural
Copyright 2012 James Marsh