Great Smoky Mountains Fishing Report 02/04/15
I am continuing the Blue Quill article from yesterday. This is about the Blue Quill
nymphs. In the next several paragraphs, I will stress the importance of the fly you use
to imitate a nymph. To get straight to the point, if is very important that the fly you
use to imitate a stonefly or mayfly nymph, looks and behaves like the real nymph you
are imitating. In fact, it is far more important than your dry fly imitating an adult insect,
or in the case of a mayfly, the dun. Generic nymphs sold by fly shops catch a
few trout in the fast water of pocket water streams, but they are actually
very lousy imitations of most nymphs. Perfect Fly is the only fly company in the
World with specific imitations of all the important mayfly and stonefly nymphs.
For those of you just starting, I'll get very basic. Wild trout live their entire life from the
time they are only small fry until they are large as they get, living in the same
environment as the nymphs. They see and try to catch and eat the Blue Quill nymphs
all of their life. After the Blue Quills hatch and are first eggs, then very tiny nymphs,
they see their cousins, I'll call them, meaning other species of the same genera
(group of mayflies within the same family). They see the little Mahogany Duns in
large quantities for most of the rest of the year. The point of this is, don't think for a
split second that the trout don't regularly see and know far more about the little Blue
Quill nymphs than anyone, even an entomologist, could explain. From a standpoint of
being able to catch and eat them, they know as much about the nymphs they survive
on than any angler or entomologist will ever comprehend. Trying to fool them into
taking your fake fly imitation for the real thing they see every day of their life,
especially since they catch and eat them in slow to moderate water where they can
get a good look at them, isn't exactly easy.
In order to imitate the nymphs with much success, you have to know something about
them. Just tying on a imitation of our Perfect Fly Blue Quill nymph won't bring the
success you probably expect if it isn't presented right at the right time and place.
First of all, of the four types of nymphs, swimmers, crawlers, burrowers and clingers,
the crawlers are the most difficult to describe. A "Crawler" isn't exactly a catch all
group of nymphs, but they can't be as clearly defined and described as the other
three types. Although, I have no conclusive proof, I suspect strongly that more of
them get eaten by trout than the others. They are not near as fast moving as the
swimmers that can dart around like little minnows. They can't hide in burrows like the
burrower nymphs. They can't get down between and even up under rocks on the
stream bottom like the clingers. They can't hold on in fast water like the clingers.
They have to rely on staying hidden in more moderate to slow flows.
In spring creeks and tailwaters, you will almost always find more crawler nymphs than
the others, but not in fast, pocket water freestone streams. They exist in slower
moving, isolated areas of the fast water streams and are not near as overall plentiful
as the clingers or the swimmers. In areas of the streams where they do exist, they are
far more plentiful per area of the stream than the others.
What does all this mean to you? It means that if you can identify the areas of the
streams in the Smokies where they do exist, you can catch trout on imitations of them
more frequently than you can trying to imitate the other types of nymphs. The
majority of the nymphs in the Smokies are clingers, and for all practical purposes, are
not available for the trout to eat except prior to a hatch. You can catch trout feeding
on the swimmers just about any time, but up until the time for them to hatch, it isn't as
easy as fishing imitations of the crawlers.
When I say "identify the areas of the stream where the crawlers exist", I'm not
referring to large, major sections of the streams in the Smokies. Crawlers are in all
major areas of the streams. I'm not referring to long stretches of water in any of the
streams. There are some crawlers scattered about here and there all along in the
streams. In areas of the stream with faster and steeper inclines, there are fewer
crawler nymphs, but you will still find some in the calmer pockets and areas of the
slower moving water. The sections of the streams with moderate declinations in the
mid to lower elevations will usually have the most clinger nymphs.
I'm probably getting ahead of many of you just learning about aquatic insects but
what I'm mentioning above regarding the crawler nymph habitat is the reason there
are not any huge quantities and subsequent hatches of Hendricksons, Sulphurs,
Eastern Pale Evening Duns, and Eastern Blue-winged Olives (Drunnela species) in
the park. That written, as already mentioned, the Blue Quills are crawler nymphs. I've
also written there's more of them than the Quill Gordons which are clinger nymphs.
That certainly seems to contradict what I just wrote about the low quantities of the
crawler mayfly nymphs and here's why. It gets back to what I first wrote. The
crawler category of nymphs is difficult to define, describe, and categorize. Blue Quill
crawler nymphs can live just about everywhere in a stream the water isn't flowing fast.
Even in fast pocket water sections of the streams, you will find Blue Quill nymphs
hiding just about everywhere the water isn't moving fast. One reason is that is their
ability to move around and hide from predators, in many ways, they are more like
swimming nymphs than they are the crawler nymphs.
Most crawlers have big front legs to help them crawl or move about the bottom. The
little Blue Quill nymphs are streamlined and far more agile. While they can't swim as
such, they can dart about with body wiggles and because of their small size, they can
hide around just about anything in the stream. Without continuing to deal with this, I'll
put it like this. They are different enough from the other crawler nymphs that they
probably deserve their own category.
When you examine a stream, just about anywhere you see slow to moderately flowing
water, there's a good chance there are plenty of Blue Quill nymphs. Of course, the
largest and most plentiful sections of slow to moderate water is usually found in the
pools. While there are plenty of Blue Quill nymphs in the typical pool in the Smokies,
Blue Quill nymphs don't exist in the deeper water. You will find them around the
banks and the shallow tail ends of the pools. The problem is, they don't just exist in
pools. Where they do, it's even more difficult to catch trout feeding on them there
than it is from other smaller sections of slow to moderate water that's found within the
fast water sections of runs and riffles. For one thing, because of their small size,
large quantities of them can exist in small areas.
If you stumble up the stream, blind casting a fly, and this includes our Perfect Fly
imitation of the Blue Quill, you are limited to one thing - luck. You may or may not
catch the first trout but if and when you do, you can rest assured it was only due to
blind luck. The total area of water you need to present the fly in to imitate the Blue
Quills, probably averages less than twenty percent of the overall surface area of
water. If you fly doesn't land in the area of the stream the trout are looking for the
Blue Quills in, your mostly just waisting time. Sure, you may well end up hooking a
trout, but it certainly won't be because you knew anything about what you were
The fly not only needs to be presented in the right areas of the stream (type of
water), it needs to be presented such that it imitates the behavior of the Blue Quill
nymphs. Remember, this will be slow to moderate water. Much of the time it will be on
the shallow side rather than deep water. It isn't the same as casting your fly in the
fast water of a run. It has to be presented without allowing the trout to see you and
without the fly line, leader and landing of the fly spooking trout looking for the
I don't intend to get into basic fly fishing techniques, casting and presentation. A few
books wouldn't completely cover those subjects. I'm only pointing out where the
nymphs are found and the type of water they are found in. When you confine your
presentations to those areas of the stream only, you have increased your odds big
time. When you use a good imitation of the Blue Quill nymph, you have increased
your odds a bunch. When you keep the fly on the bottom (like the naturals) and
when it isn't on the bottom, barely off the bottom (like the naturals), you have
increased your odds even more.
If your fly line drags the fly through the slower water, forget catching a trout. If the
trout see you or your fly line, forget it. If the fly doesn't move at the same speed or
slower than the current, forget it. If you have to see an indicator, or dry fly that drops
the nymph to know a fish has taken the fly, forget it and learn to fish a nymph without
a float. Your not fishing for bream with a cricket.
Today will be sunny with a high near 52. South wind will be around 5 mph becoming
west in the afternoon. Tonight, there's a slight chance of rain and snow before 2am,
then a chance of snow with a low around 29. The chance of precipitation is 50%.
Thursday, there's a 50 percent chance of snow, mainly before 1pm. It will be cloudy,
then gradually becoming mostly sunny with a high near 32. North wind will be around
10 mph. The low Thursday night will be around 15.
Smoky Mountain Stream Conditions:
The streams with links that have nearby USGS Station Real-time stream data: Click
to links to see updates:
Little River: Rate 645 cfs at 2.67 ft.
(good wading conditions up to 250 cfs, and with extra caution up to 400 cfs)
Oconaluftee River: Rate 635 cfs at 2.10 ft.
(good wading conditions up to 500 cfs, and with extra caution up to 700 cfs)
Cataloochee Creek: Rate 170 cfs at 2.84 ft (This gauge is also messed up due to
ice) (good wading conditions up to 125 with extra caution up to 150 cfs)
Little Pigeon River doesn't have a station nearby. Yesterday, it was a little high.
Hazel Creek and the other larger NC streams flowing into Fontana Lake. I'm sure
they are still on the high side of normal.
Current Recommended Streams: None
Recommended Trout Flies:
1. Blue-winged Olives:
Hook Size 20/18
2. Brown and White Belly Sculpins:
Hook Size 6
3. Cream Midges: 20/22
4. Winter Stoneflies: 16/18
5. Little Brown Stoneflies: 14
Recommended Fishing Strategy:
Keep in mind, the strategies I am recommending is for the maximum odds
of catching numbers of fish. Many prefer or favor a dry fly and by all means there
isn't anything wrong with that. It's just a fact that if nothing is hatching at the time, it
reduces your odds of success. You can still probably hook some trout, just not as
many as if you fish subsurface. Of course, this is also based on using good
techniques and the right flies. Some guys don't know how to fish below the surface.
Until I spotted something hatching, assuming I was fishing a low to mid elevation
stream, I would fish a size 18 Blue-winged Olive nymph. Many of the species of
mayflies called Blue-winged Olives are bi-brooded, meaning they hatch twice a year.
They are swimming nymphs that dart around in short spurts and hide wherever they
can. They don't stay wedged up under the rocks like most of the other mayfly
nymphs, the majority of which are clingers. Winter stoneflies should begin crawling
out of the water to hatch and Little Brown stoneflies will start very soon, if not already.
If the water is below 43 degrees, I would switch to a Cream Midge larva and Cream
Midge Pupa tandem rig, with the larva the bottom fly and the pupa above it.
If you spot something hatching, it will most likely be Cream Midges, Winter stoneflies
or small Blue-winged Olives. Switch to the adult Cream Midge, if it is midges
hatching, Winter stonefly, or the BWO Dun or emerger, if it is the BWOs.
Tips for Beginners:
Learn to imitate the most plentiful and available insects and other foods at the time
you are fishing, or continue to use trial and error methods and forever be a mediocre
Tips for the Self Proclaimed Experts:
Whatever Hits Me:
Copyright 2015 James Marsh
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By the way, you can identify the Blue
Quill nymphs by looking at the tips of
the little hair like gills. It isn't easy to
see, but notice the tips of the gills are