Great Smoky Mountains Fishing Report 02/11/15
I remember when "jump suits" (that's what the bass fishing guys called them) first
came out in the late 1970's, I thought they were God's gift to the serious bass
fisherman. Running down a lake in a bass boat at about 60 MPH on a morning when
the temperature is around freezing or below, will freeze an Eskimo to death.
Helmets and insulated jump suits solved that problem. I brought this up for one
reason. If you go fishing in the park tomorrow, with a temperature around 29 degrees
and wind gusting to 25 mph, be sure to wear your helmet and jump suit.
I had a lot of positive email about the Blue Quill articles I did a few days ago, so I'll do
a series on the Quill Gordons: I am using an article I wrote in 2012.
Breaking News! I just held the World's first ugliest mayfly nymph contest and the
Quill Gordon nymph took first place.
Several years ago, when we first started catching and photographing the aquatic
insects in the streams of the Smokies, it was later in the year, well after the Quill
Gordons had hatched. We didn't expect to get any Quill Gordon nymphs because
they would still have been in the egg stage of life, or no larger than the first or
second instar of development. In other words, that means they were eggs or tiny, tiny
nymphs. The following winter, in January and February, when the streams are loaded
with nymphs and larvae, we did expect to catch some Quill Gordon nymphs;
however, that didn't turn out to be the case. After using our various nets several
times on different days in numerous locations on different streams in the park, we
came up with just about every species of insect in the water but the Quill Gordon. Of
course, at that time, they should have been as large as they were going to get, and
as plentiful as they were ever going to be because it was just prior to the time they
I wasn't specifically looking for them at first, but when I realized we were missing them,
I did begin to focus on them. At night, I would read all the information in the numerous
books I had to try to determine exactly where I should be looking. Some books were
for fly fishers and some for entomologist, and believe me, I had just about all that had
been written for anglers and entomologist. As far as locations within a stream, there
was actually very little information beyond a general description of the fast, clear,
unpolluted water they prefer. The streams of the Smokies offer the perfect habitat
but so does many other Eastern and some Mid-western freestone streams. They also
exist in some fast water sections of spring creeks and even a few tailwaters.
Most of the time we were checking for insects, the water levels were at Spring levels,
meaning on the high side. That means the nymphs and larvae were for the most part
in deeper water than they normal were, but we were able to catch hundreds of other
nymphs, and sometimes, counting all sizes, that many in one kick net sample. I begin
to get seriously concerned about why I wasn't able to get any Quill Gordon nymphs.
I went back through our video tape logs and journals, and pulled up fish we had
caught during the Quill Gordon hatches from previous years of fishing the Smokies. I
tried to identify the exact locations we have caught trout feeding on Quill Gordon
duns and spinners. I was sure that would put me in the right places on the streams to
get some nymphs to photograph and video but it didn't. I was beginning to think they
all had disappeared from the park.
I remember sitting on the bank of the Middle Prong of Little River exactly were we had
caught dozens of trout from the Quill Gordon hatch the years prior to that time. On
one trip, our logs show I caught and Angie video taped, over twenty trout in one short
stretch of water of about a hundred yards in less than an hour. This was during a
spinner fall just before dark. Even so, after using our kick nets in the same area, we
didn't come up with the first Quill Gordon nymph.
Now, I knew the nymphs live in the fast water runs, and I also knew they moved to the
nearest moderate to slow water prior to hatching. That's in every book ever written
about the hatch. That's often only a very short distance, usually less than ten feet,
and sometimes only a couple of feet. They move into places like deep pockets
behind boulders, for example, and when they hatch they quickly get caught up in the
current seam between fast and slower water. So, my next move was to focus on using
the nets in the pockets. We normally wanted the nets in the current so the nymphs
and larvae washed into the net when we disturbed the bottom in front of the net. We
hadn't really used them in pockets with little current until that particular day.That
produced exactly nothing. I was really scratching my head.
Keep in mind, we were doing this in deep enough water to get plenty of everything
else, or so it seemed, but the bottom of our nets were usually not over two feet deep
and never over three feet deep. That's over shoulder deep reaching down in the
water with my long arms. I also knew the water was averaging a little high and that
when we were in water around a foot or so deep, we netted little of anything. That
told me the nymphs may be in deeper water. The next day, I focused on the exact
same areas of water but in much deeper areas of the fast water runs. It wasn't easy
and I ended up getting my shirt and jacket sleeves wet in the very cold water. I almost
froze to death, but each time we did that in the same areas I caught the trout on the
spinner fall, we came up with lots of Quill Gordon nymphs. We caught as many as two
or three dozen from one three foot wide kick net, but it had to be on the bottom in at
least three feet of water or deeper. According to my notes, we also got far more other
types of clinger nymphs. About the only mayfly clingers we were getting prior to that
were the big March Browns. I found out later, the reason for that was, the March
Brown nymphs are very strong and can crawl across the bottom about as fast as a
crayfish. They obviously move around some.
My guess is the water was about a foot higher than normal at the time, That meant
everything less than a foot deep was normally on dry land. The Quill Gordon and all
clinger nymphs can't swim at all. They grip the bottom stones like they have suction
cups on their bellies. You have to pry them off a rock. They crawl across the bottom,
and mostly underneath the rocks, to move from one point to another. In other words,
they don't move back and forth to different depths or to different locations when the
water levels change. They stay at safe levels, deep enough for normal, varying water
From that point on, we began to check other areas of the same stream as well as
other streams in the park. We used the same pattern of netting deeper runs, but we
quickly learned something else that is very important from a fishing standpoint. About
two out of three places that appeared to be exactly identical deep runs, with similar
depth water, and similar in all respects as best we could determine, didn't produce
the first Quill Gordon nymph. We either got a dozen or more, or we got nothing, and
most of the time it was nothing.
Here is the reason for that. The Quill Gordon nymphs don't exist in all areas of the
stream, even if the type of water they prefer. Those of you that have fished the hatch
a lot over the years, probably know that. For some reason, I have yet to figure out,
they are randomly spaced out throughout the streams. You may find them, and I'm
not only referring to catching the nymphs (which you have to have a
special permit to do). I'm referring to the hatches in one section of water and not in
other nearby stretches of water that appears identical. Keep in mind that they will
hatch within a very few feet of the same water the nymphs live in, but only in
moderate to slow water. They hatch on the bottom, not the surface, and they get
caught up in the fast current. Often, by the time their wings are dry enough to fly,
they are drifting on the surface in the fast water.
The main point I want to make is that unless you know where they have hatched
during previous years, and I don't mean the name of the streams, rather exact areas
of the streams, you have to look for them. Unfortunately, you only have an hour or
two to see them hatching on any given day. What you see later on in the day are
mayflies that previously hatched earlier in the day. They are usually fairly close by
the water they hatched from. They may still be duns, or they may be spinners found
the day after they hatched. This lets you know that unless those mayflies were
hatching at the very tail end of the hatch, they will likely hatch there the following day.
You can't pattern the areas. You may find them hatching in one run, yet the next five
runs that look exactly the same, may not have any. On the other hand, every other
run may have them. You just have to find them and you have a relatively short time
to do that each day. Some streams may have ideal looking stretches of water a
quarter of a mile long without any Quill Gordons.
I have discussed this with some of the best known entomologist specializing in
aquatic insects in the Eastern U.S. I have discussed it with a few guys that have
written books on aquatic insects as relates to trout fishing. It isn't something that's
prevalent in the Smokies. The same thing is common in streams from Georgia to
Maine. No one seems to know why.
When you hear someone say, "I fished all day today, and the Quill Gordons are not
hatching", you can't count on that being accurate. Unless you know where they have
hatched in previous years, you may fish all day at the same time they are hatching
and not see the first one. You have to find them. You shouldn't ever spend much
time in any one area of a stream during the warmest part of the day, when they
typically hatch. You should move around rather fast, fishing the fast water runs until
you do find them. Later in the day, past the time they hatch, you should look for the
duns or spinners. If you find any, most likely, they will hatch there the following day.
There's more to come on this, as well as how to imitate the various stages of life of
the Quill Gordon mayfly.
Weather: (At Gatlinburg at about 1600 ft)
Today, will be mostly sunny with a high near 54. Wind will be from the west around 5
mph. Tonight, there is a slight chance of rain showers after 1am, mixing with snow
after 5am. The low will be around 31. The chance of precipitation is 20%.
Thursday, there is a 40 percent chance of snow showers, mainly after 7am. It will be
mostly cloudy with a temperature rising to near 34 by 8am, then falling to around 29
during the remainder of the day. West wind will be from 10 to 15 mph, with gusts as
high as 25 mph. Burr! The low Thursday night will be around 14.
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 495 cfs at 2.40 ft.
(good wading conditions up to 250 cfs, and with extra caution up to 400 cfs)
Oconaluftee River: Rate 500 cfs at 1.90 ft.
(good wading conditions up to 500 cfs, and with extra caution up to 700 cfs)
Cataloochee Creek: Rate 102 cfs at 2.57 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 a little on the high side, but still fishable.
Current Recommended Streams: Upper Abrams Creek
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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Want to know how to identify
Quill Gordon nymphs?
Clue number one:
Two tails, not three like most
mayfly nymphs, but...........that
alone, isn't enough.
Want to know how to identify a
Quill Gordon nymphs?
Clue number two:
See the little "hearts" on its
legs? That's typical of the
Epeorus genus and the Quill
Gordon is the Epeorus Pleuralis
By the way, notice the big gills
and how "flat" the nymph is.
That is typical of the clinger