02/12/09

Update on the Fishing Conditions in the Smokies:

I went to the park the last two days and did about an hour of fishing the first day.
Yesterday was too windy. Everyone is getting all excited about fishing and for good
reasons. The weather has warmed all over the South and anglers are getting
anxious to get out and fish.
Day before yesterday, I fished below the bridge at Sugarland Vistor's Center. In
less than an hour I caught three rainbow trout from the run at the pool that is almost
under the bridge. The smallest was about 6 inches and the largest about 10 inches.
I didn't try anywhere else. My purpose was not to catch fish but to check on the
status of the insects. I looked at Quill Gordon,
Epeorus pleuralis, nymphs )maybe
20 of them) from my kick net from Metcalf Bottoms to Elkmont on the Little River
and from the Little Pigeon at a walk-in just above the Vistor's Center. Their wing
pads are just becoming dark. They are not close to opening but it want be long. We
show them starting in mid February on our hatch charts because they will hatch that
early if the weather has been unseasonably warm. I would put them closer to the
first week of March this year in the streams at the lower elevations. The weather
has been cold for a long time and the average is probably normal or maybe even
less than normal. That should change as the long range forecast looks it may move
to a little above average.
The other mayflies I checked on were the Blue Quills. By the way, Blue Quills are
not a bunch of little mayflies of various types and species. They are one species,
the
Paraleptophlebia adoptive. I probably looked at a hundred of those little
nymphs. They are in about the same shape, development wise, as the Quill
Gordons. Their wing pads are darker than normal but not raised or not close to
hatching.

Weather, water temperature and hatches:
Mayflies don't hatch just because the water gets to a certain temperature and stays
there for three, four or even five days unless it at the time of year they normally
hatch. They hatch about the same time year in and year out and only when they
become fully developed. That takes more than a few days of warm weather. It takes
time. It takes a certain amount of time for them to develop through all their instars
into a full grown nymph at optimum conditions. If they hatched just because the
water warmed up a few days, the Quill Gordons would have hatched in December,
but it doesn't work that way. They have to be fully developed and they don't
accomplish that within a week or two. Weather and warm water can speed the hatch
up but only by a few days from what would be normal or average. It can also slow it
down that much. If the weather stays on the warm side of normal for the next ten
days, they will probably start hatching. If it doesn't, it may be another couple of
weeks. I am not talking about the Quill Gordons in water at the lowest elevations
where there are few, if any trout. The hatch may start a little earlier in smallmouth
water but that want do anyone any good.
Something about hatches that is consistent is that the order of the hatch, meaning
which mayflies, caddisflies, etc. hatch first, second, third, etc. It doesn't change. It
stays the same irrespective of the weather.
It is not good for the insects to have early, warm, unseasonable weather no more
than it is for the trees and plants. When the weather fluctuates up and down, it can
spread a hatch out and make it sparse most of the time. That could cause the Quill
Gordons to hatch over a period of as much as a month and a half from the lowest
to the highest elevations instead of about three weeks. When that happens, they
almost never hatch in large quantities. Having a large number of them on the water
turns the trout on much better. Fluctuating weather doesn't help the fishing.
Another problem is that when a hatch starts and the weather turns cold during the
hatch, those mayflies with their wing pads already opening will continue to hatch.
That is usually only the ones in a given section of elevation change. Once their
wing pads start to open, they will hatch if the water temperature drops below forty
degrees.  The problem with that is that when the water drops into the low forties,
the trout want eat the flies on the surface. Many anglers become convinced they
are not eating them at all. That is not the case. The trout will continue to eat the
emerging nymphs.

Quill Gordons:
The Quill Gordon is one of a few mayflies that hatch below the surface. They come
to the surface as a full grown fly or dun. They do not hatch in the surface skim.
Trout probably eat 20 times as many of them when they are emerging as when they
do on the surface. It is much easier for them to do so. When they start hatching,
usually when the water is around 50 degrees, it is marginal as to whether the trout
will eat them on the surface. They will at that temperature but it is often less than
that.
Everyone is partial to the Quill Gordons because they are large and easy to see. It
is easier for them to identify with big bugs. It isn't easy for them to identify with the
ones they can barely see.
I also noticed in checking the nymphs that none of them were in the locations they
normally hatch. They were still in the fast water. I found none in the pockets. Quill
Gordons will move from the fast water riffles and bottom of the runs into the closest
calmer water. They do not hatch in the fast water. This is usually a pocket behind a
rock or boulder. Up until they get ready to hatch, they stay down between and
under the rocks on the bottom. They are flat clinger nymphs and can stay on a rock
in fast water. They crawl on the bottom to the calmer water areas where they hatch
(usually less than a few feet and sometimes only inches) about a week before they
emerge as duns.
Blue Quills:
The trout will eat the Blue Quills just as readily as the Quill Gordons. They are
much easier for them to acquire. They are swimmers. They don't hide under rocks.
They can escape the same way a minnow does or by darting away and avoiding he
trout. They also hatch in smoother, calmer water adjacent to the moderate water
they normally reside in. You will often see them in the shallow water near the banks
and behind boulders where the water is shallow. They hatch over a longer period of
time and there are a lot more of them in the streams of the Smokies than there are
Quill Gordons. The females are a hook size 18 and the males are smaller, not quite
as small as a 20 but close. If you use a fly larger than a size 18 you are screwing
up. Fly shops sell them in all sizes because there is also a fly named the Blue Quill
tied to match any dark mayfly. You do not want them. In many cases, they sell flies
to large for one simple reason. They are easier to sell. The buyers often don't know
the difference. Some Fly Shops don't know the difference.  
Blue-winged Olives:
There is another mayfly that may begin to hatch. Its the Beatis species or
Blue-winged Olive as most people call them. The Little Blue-winged Olives (several
different genera) should be done hatching but the
Beatis will start anytime after mid
February and hatch off and on through June. There are several species of the
Beatis. Sometimes they overlap. They are little olive/green mayflies that range in
size from a hook size 16 up to a 20. You will need to actually see the BWOs to
determine which size is hatching. Most days none will be hatching. Some days more
than one species will be hatching. If it is a cloudy, rainy or heavy overcast day, you
should keep an eye out for them. Normally they don't start until around the first of
March but they may start early if the weather is unseasonable warm.
Little Black Caddisflies:
There are two caddisflies you will be seeing about the same time the mayflies
hatch. One is just as important as the Quill Gordons or the Blue Quills. It is the Little
Black Caddis or
Brachycentrus species. In the western states, this hatch is called
the "mother's day" hatch. These caddisflies are the ones that have the neat little
chimney cases that the larvae live in. Little River has a very good population of
them but most all the streams in the park do also. They hatch about the same time
as the Quill Gordons, sometimes a little before them. They hatch like many mayflies
do - in the surface skim. Like the Quill Gordons, the trout will take them from the
surface as a full grown adult caddisfly but they eat more of them in the pupa stage
of life as they swim to the surface to hatch. You can catch just as many trout on this
hatch as you can the Quill Gordon or Blue Quill hatch. It can last longer and later in
the day than the mayflies. The egg layers (from previous days hatches) start before
the hatch has ended about mid afternoon and continues until dark. You can catch
fish on adult imitations as long as the park rules allow you to fish.
The other caddisfly is the
Tiny Black Caddis, a Chimarra species.  They will hatch
earlier than the Blue Quills or Quill Gordons when the water is between 45 and 50
degrees. The problem with these little caddis isn't that they are small, hook size 20
for the females -22 for the males, it is that they crawl out of the water to hatch. They
crawl up the rocks and banks. When they deposit their eggs, they crawl down the
rocks and banks to the bottom and paste them on rocks. About the only time they
are on the surface is when the females are floating spent after they have died and
floated back to the surface.
They are not important in my opinion. I have tried
for the last four years to catch trout on imitations of these little caddis without any
success. If fact, I didn't even develop a Perfect Fly imitation of them. I don't think
they are worth the effort to imitate although I may be missing something. I
mentioned them just so you want confuse them with the Little Black Caddis. They
are smaller caddisflies and that will quickly identify the difference once you are able
to see both of them.
Winter Stoneflies:
There is one more important insect you need imitations of for now. That is the Little
Winter Stoneflies, sometimes called Snow Flies. They are from the Capniidae
family. They are just starting to hatch. They crawl out of the water to hatch. You
want to fish the nymph imitations of them by bringing the fly from the fast water all
the way to the banks. Stay back away from the banks. That is where the trout
usually eat them. If the weather turns too cold for everything else I have mentioned
above, this is one thing you should be fishing. When the water warms to about 50
degrees, the trout will take the egg laying adults on the surface. The problem is that
when that happens, it is often the same time the trout are eating the Quill Gordons
and Blue Quills, which are much more available. The Winter Stoneflies can be
important when nothing else is hatching but they are never found in large quantities.
Importance of the hatches:
I have fished all my life, not just causally, but for many years, exclusively for my
living. I have produced and hosted eighteen trout fishing DVD and forty-six
saltwater fishing DVDs. From 1980 to 1985, I produced and hosted the first
syndicated saltwater fishing show ever aired on television. I fished the BASS pro
circuit for 5 years. I fished two different saltwater fishing circuits for a total of about
ten years. I have fished in over twenty countries with some of the best anglers,
captains and mates in the world.
If I could give one and only one tip on being successful at fishing it would be this. I
learned a long time ago, that
the key to catching any fish was to first learn all
about the food it eats.
Every time you catch a fish, you do so because you are
either using what they eat or something they think is what they eat. It doesn't matter
what species of fish it is, that is the key to catching it. With trout, it involves a lot of
different foods. Don't let anyone fool you about fly fishing for trout. Have you ever
noticed that the very ones that will tell you that it is not important to know how to be
able to identify, or to understand the behavior of the insects trout eat, are the same
ones that don't know anything about them?
Information:
Some of you may wonder where I get my information on aquatic insects. It came
mostly from studying them on the water using various nets and special equipment I
have to do that. Fishing for most of the days in a year throughout the nation for the
last nine years, made it possible for me to be able to observe and capture about
every insect trout eat. I have marco video and stills of all of them. I have fished all of
the hatches. I have read every fly-fishing entomology book that exist and almost all
of them that include anything about bugs. By the way, many of them have false and
misleading information. Some authors have merely copied other author's mistakes. I
have read seven different entomologist books on aquatic insects, about all of them
that exist along with many papers and reports put out on the subject. I have all the
latest Keys for identifying aquatic insects. I communicate frequently with three
different entomologist that are experts in aquatic insects. I send them samples to
help me identify and to verify what I do. One of them is an expert angler. I have a
cousin that has a PhD in it, by the way. He was a professor at Auburn University but
knows little about aquatic insects. I have a permit from the National Park Service to
capture and study the insects in the park. I am not a professional bug man. I just
want to know everything I can about the food that trout rely on.

I will soon be posting the flies you need to fish the Smokies on a regular basis. It will
simplify the entire process and make it easy for you to have what you will need
throughout the season. Just remember that having the right flies is just a part of
what it takes to consistently catch trout. They have to be presented in such as way
as to act like the real bugs. That is impossible if you do not know how the bugs
behave.

At first it may seem like a complicated or a very involved ordeal.
It is not. It is really
quite simple. It just takes wanting to know how to catch fish as a result of knowing
what you are doing instead of just relying on trail and error and pure luck.  

Copyright 2009 James Marsh