Great Smoky Mountains Fishing Report 02/08/15
We won't have many, if any, early February days any better than today. I'm finishing
up the Blue Quill articles today. I hope you keep in mind that the more you know
about the trout and the food they rely on to survive, the easier it is for you to catch
them. You have a choice. You can fish the next fifty years, or however many you
have left, using generic flies, selecting them by trail and error, not knowing a mayfly
spinner from a June Bug, or you can stop and learn what it is your actually trying to
accomplish. Many of the "I've been fishing the streams in the Smokies for fifty years"
guys, never stop to realize that is a long time to do something relying on pure luck.
Blue Quill Spinners:
As soon as the duns emerge from the stream and fly off to the trees and bushes,
they begin to molt into spinners. A layman's way of putting this is they become
sexually mature. Mayflies undergo some fairly drastic changes, not only in
appearance, they also change the physically size of some body parts. Their tails and
to some extent, their legs become longer. Their abdomen becomes skinnier. The
wings usually become hyaline, translucent, or clear, leaving only the dark molting and
veining pattern if present.
In the case of the Blue Quills, this usually takes place within the first day of their life.
Some species are fully developed and mate the same day they hatch and others do
so the following day. The exact time of mating varies from species to species and to
some extent, with the weather.
The Blue Quill male spinners go out over the water in the same areas they emerged
and do what I call the mayfly dance. They congregate in swarms and move back and
forth, up and down. Some contend this is to attract the females so they can mate.
When the females approach them the dancing intensifies. Copulation begins and
ends in mid-air. As soon as they are finished, the male spinners fall dead on the
water, or sometimes on the banks of the stream. The ones that fall on the water drift
away with the current and often get eaten by trout.
As soon as the females eggs have been fertilized from copulation, they fly back to
the bushes and trees along the stream until the eggs become ready for ovipositing.
Ovipositing is a fancy word for the female depositing her eggs on or in the water. The
time this takes varies but is usually very short. It's sometimes less than an hour but
often longer. Most species of mayflies fly out over the water from which they emerged
and deposit the eggs on the surface of the water. Some drop them from the air just
above the water. Other species of mayflies crawl into the water and deposit them on
the rocks. Some dive into the water and deposit their eggs on the submerged wood,
vegetation and rocks. Blue Quills knock them off by touching the water in flight or by
dropping them from slightly above the water.
When ovipositing (egg laying) is finished, the mayflies' wings fall spent (flat) and the
females spinners float away in the current or get eaten by trout.
More Specifically on the Blue Quill Spinners:
The Blue Quill spinners start appearing above the water within a few hours after a
hatch. The mating process usually takes place late in the afternoons near dark. If it's
a cloudy, overcast day, the spinner fall takes place earlier than it does on clear,
sunny days. It can take place in the early morning but this isn't the normal time. It's
also possible it occurs both late in the day and early in the morning but this would be
very unusual. For example, if it's warmer than normal, with air temperatures in the
sixties or seventies, and overcast or cloudy, look for the spinner fall to start near the
end of the hatch late in the afternoon around 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM. If it's colder, with
air temperatures in the fifties and low sixties and the skies are clear, look for the
spinner fall to start about the time it gets dark, which is after legal fishing hours in the
Like most other mayflies, the little Blue Quills will mate and deposit their eggs in the
same type of water they hatched from. Basically, this is shallower, slow to moderate
water near fast water riffles and runs. These areas are outlined in previous articles
under the nymphs and emerger sections of the Blue Quill articles. Once the mating
ends, the males fall in the water and sometimes on the banks, depending on wind
that may affect where they land. A short time after that, the females will start
depositing their eggs.
The best way to determine when the spinner fall is occurring is to keep a close check
high above the stream. The mating swarms of Blue Quills usually take place above
head high, and as high as thirty or forty feet above the water. If your not looking for
them you may never notice them. In fact, since the larger spinner falls occur during
low light conditions, you almost have to view the clouds of mating spinners against
some available light or you cannot possibly see them. If the sky is dark, its sometimes
impossible to see them.
When they do fall on the water, you probably will most likely still not be able to see
them, even if your wading the stream in the same area the spinners fall. They are
small, hook size 18, spent spinners (wings will be flat on the water) with clear wings.
They are almost impossible to see floating in the surface skim. A skim net can be
very useful in determining if spinners are present on the water.
Most often the spinners will be caught up in the faster water and carried downstream
to collect into calmer areas of the stream. They often collect at the ends of long runs
and riffles where the water slows down. A down and across presentation, or a direct
downstream slack cast may be needed, especially if the water is very smooth. The
presentation needed depends on the water that they become trapped in. The trout
that feed on the Blue Quill spinners are usually easily spooked.
We have had some excellent success in the Smokies fishing the spinner fall during
the late afternoons. We do better if it's later in the season, near the end of the Blue
Quill hatch when the weather is usually warmer, and it's very overcast or raining. On
a few occasions we have found the trout feeding on the spent spinners in very calm,
shallow water in the early morning but so far, we haven't found that situation in the
Smokies. It may very well be that we don't often fish for trout early in the mornings in
late Winter or early Spring.
Sometimes the Quill Gordon spinners will be mixed in with them. Blue-winged olives
and Little Blue-winged Olive spinners may also be present.
Fishing the Blue Quill spinner fall requires a light, long leader and tippet, and careful
presentations. The early season Blue Quill hatch can be even more important than
the Quill Gordons that start hatching about the same time of the season. That's
because the Blue Quill hatch usually last longer and there are usually a lot more of
them than the Quill Gordons.
Weather: (At Gatlinburg at about 1600 ft)
Today, we will have Increasing clouds with a high near 63. Southwest wind will range
from 10 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph. Tonight, showers are likely, mainly
after 3am. The low will be round 47.The chance of precipitation is 60%.
Monday, showers are likely, but mainly before 7am. It will be cloudy with a high near
53. West wind will range from 5 to 10 mph becoming northwest in the afternoon. The
chance of precipitation is 60%.
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 401 cfs at 2.21 ft.
(good wading conditions up to 250 cfs, and with extra caution up to 400 cfs)
Oconaluftee River: Rate 470 cfs at 1.85 ft.
(good wading conditions up to 500 cfs, and with extra caution up to 700 cfs)
Cataloochee Creek: Rate 121 cfs at 2.65 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 getting near a
Hazel Creek and the other larger NC streams flowing into Fontana Lake. I'm sure
they are nearing their normal levels.
Current Recommended Streams: Any of the lower elevations streams with
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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