Insects and other foods the trout may be eating:
1. Blue-winged Olives
3. Sculpin, Minnows (Streamers)
Fishing Cold Water - Part Four
During my college years, I continued to do some of the same type of fishing in cold water that I
have written about so far. In fact, most of those that knew me would say that I did too much
fishing. They didn't have a clue I was just getting started.
The first full time job I had was an engineering position with Southern Bell. I was newly married
and we moved to Birmingham. That changed things for me. Like most everyone else in the
world, I could only fish on weekends, holidays and the short vacations I could take during the
four years I worked for Ma Bell. After four years, I quit the corporate crap and went into the
general contracting business with the backing of another contractor my father worked for. I
was able to buy his interest out after the first two years I was in business. During the four
years I was with the telephone company, I fished the nearby chain of Coosa River Lakes
(Logan Martin, Lay and Mitchell), and a fairly new lake that was making history at the time -
Smith Lake near Jasper and Cullman Alabama.
Smith Lake is a deep, clear lake that has more spotted bass than largemouth bass. The lake
was fairly new in the mid to late sixties and the Spotted Bass were growing to huge sizes. As it
turned out, they were a slightly different spotted bass than those of the Coosa River which
were referred to as "Kentucky Spotted Bass". The world record spotted bass was set and
broken a few times at Smith Lake during those years. The lake is so deep at the dam, that the
tailwater is stocked with trout. One of my early construction projects as a contractor was
constructing concrete walls, walks and ramps for Alabama Power Company below the dam. I
would visit the job and catch rainbow trout using spinning lures. I did wait until after my men
were finished working for the day. Except for some springs, that is probably the southern most
place in the nation you can catch rainbow trout.
The spotted bass world record interested me and I set out to break it. The lake was just over
an hour drive from my home in Mountain Brook. I fished the lake on weekends often
throughout the year but this story is about fishing during the coldest days of the winter months.
The Spots stay in very deep water most of the year. Years later, using depth finders, I caught
them from depths of up to sixty feet in Smith Lake. I would jig spoons in submerged creek
channels. In the late sixties, I trolled large Hellbenders. This is an old deep diving bait with a
huge lip that at the time, was the deepest diving lure you could buy. I would add a trailing
in-line spinnerbait about two feet behind the Hellbender and troll the rig as deep as I could get
the lure to run. That was about twenty to twenty-five feet. I didn't have a depth finder at the
time. I just dropped a heavy lure to the bottom to measure the deep at various place. I wanted
the Hellbender lip to bump the bottom. The depth was controlled by the speed I trolled. At that
time, I carried a small outboard motor in the trunk of the car and rented a boat at the lake.
One year I continued to catch spotted bass throughout the fall months and on into the early
Winter using the method I just described. I continued to use the same method until it failed on
a very cold day that, if I remember correctly, was during the month of January. I remember ice
being all around the lake's perimeter where water had splashed up on the banks. The wind
was blowing very hard that day and it was so cold I almost decided to cancel my plans and
return home. I didn't catch anything trolling the first hour that early morning and I was very
cold even though I was well dressed for the weather. Later they told me that I was the only
boat that went out of the marina that day. I guess no one else was that stupid, or either didn't
love fishing as much as I did, however you want to view it..
I had trolled up into a long, deep water cove that's typical for Smith Lake, so that I could get
out of the wind. Smith isn't a typical southern lake. It's more like a maze of creeks that are all
very deep and extremely clear. I had stopped trolling and was reeling in the Hellbender
(which took some work) when I heard a loud noise on the water. I looked around and the
entire surface of water about twenty yards away was exploding with fish. The surface looked
like a school of bonita or Jack Crevalle was in the lake. Shad were flying out of the water in an
area the size of a large house.
After trolling the rig through the area a couple of times with no success, I decided to cast a
silver spoon into the area. That didn't work either but as I was doing so, the water again
exploded with fish a few yards away. I cranked the little outboard and got there as fast as
possible and caught about a three or four pound spotted bass the first cast. The next cast
produced the same thing and then the action abruptly ended.
To shorten the story, I would sit with the motor idling, watching and listening for the explosion
of the water (and I really mean it would explode with fish), get there as fast as possible and
then catch from two to four fish. This always happened on the first two to four cast. I couldn't
get the spoon back without a spotted bass grabbing it. When the action would stop, it would
resume a few yards away within just three or four minutes. After the fish moved, the clear
water would be a silver color from the scales of the shad. It looked like a silver cloud was in
the water. There had to have been hundreds of large spotted bass running the shad to the
surface. I have caught schooling bass all over the nation, from Florida to New York to
California, and I have never again seen that amount of activity.
I caught some that weighted over five pounds but most of them were about three to four
pounds. I also had my line broken two or three times. This went on for hours. After getting the
entire boat hull full of flopping bass, I finally took enough time out to put several on a stringer.
I begin to release all but the largest ones. At the time, I had not heard of releasing bass,
unless they were very small. I was releasing four pound spotted bass every few
minutes. I did it because I knew there was a limit, although I don't remember what it was at
the time. I didn't count fish but I am very positive I caught well over a hundred spotted bass
and maybe far more than that. It was incredible. I don't think I caught one of less than two
pounds. The action continued for the entire day. I have never since caught that many spotted
bass in a day of fishing - never even got close to it. I completely forgot about the cold. I was
shaking for the first few minutes with excitement. It took some time to get used to what was
When I got back to the marina near dark, they were actually worried about me. I ran the little
outboard with the fish in the water dragging alongside the boat. i couldn't get them in the boat
on the stringer. I was slow getting back. It was getting dark and they were about to go looking
for me. They couldn't imagine anyone staying out all day in that kind of weather.
I had a stringer full of Spots all over four pounds. I had to drag the stringer of fish up on the
bank at the marina. I used a piece of ski rope for a stringer, which was actually in the little
rental boat for a dock line. The marina people took several pictures of the fish. I can't
remember how many I kept but I couldn't pick them up out of the water on the stringer for a
good picture. They took my picture with them with the fish on the ground. I do remember that. I
had forgotten what the limit was and I was way over it. I still don't remember the number one
was allowed to keep at that time. Thanks to the cold water, the fish were all still alive. I ended
up putting most of them back in the lake at the marina. The owner said he had never seen
that many spotted bass caught during the few years he had been there.
I don't know what the water temperature was that day. It couldn't have been over forty
degrees on the surface. There was ice around the lake's perimeter. The temperature didn't
get over freezing all day according to the weather report that night on TV.
I fished the lake every time it turned cold on the weekend for the next two or three months. I
encountered the same thing a few more times, and I caught several more good stringers of
spotted bass the same way the next two or three years, but never anything even close to what
I did that incredible day of fishing Smith Lake.
I learned years later, that if food is available and easily to acquire in the areas of
water that the fish are holding, all fish including trout, will eat, even in very cold
You can read all the magazine articles and books you want to read, and you can listen to the
self proclaimed experts that like to tell others how to fish you want to, but if you will get off the
couch and with a willing mind and attitude learn to fish cold water, it want be long before your
laughing at the many phonies there are involved in the sport of fishing. They are easy to
detect. They are the ones that are so gifted they pretend to be able to predict what
you will be able to catch on a given day.
Fly Fishing Strategies - What Fly To Use - Part 21
I'm shorting the Fishing Strategy article until tomorrow. I'm running late and we are pushed to
get a large number of Perfect Fly Xmas orders shipped out today. It will continue tomorrow.
Remember: The key is to imitate the insects and or other food that's most available and
easiest for the trout to acquire. If you haven't read the first parts of this series, please do so. It
will help make this article more meaningful.
Yesterday, turned out to be an very nice day. There was even a little cloud cover and I expect
the water temperatures are getting back in good shape. The stream levels are back in good
shape according to the USGS data.
I couldn't go fishing yesterday due to the large number of orders we had to get out. I did
notice the mountains were still covered with snow yesterday afternoon. The melting snow has
a big effect on the water temperature, especially those streams that get water from the
highest elevations. Anywhere in the middle to the high forties is perfect for baetis
Blue-winged Olive hatches. This is important because that's the most plentiful and available
aquatic insects in the water at this time of the year. The word "available" is the key. They
are swimming nymphs and although I'm not certain as to how many have hatched in any given
area of the park, I'm confident there's still plenty that haven't. The drastically changing
weather conditions have been mostly too warm and recently, even too cold.
Today, depending on the effect of melting snow, should be a decent day for them to hatch,
although it would be better it there was more cloud cover. Tomorrow, the water will probably
be back up too warm for anything to hatch. It's predicted to go up to 65 degrees at Gatlinburg.
The melting snow may actually be a good thing in this case, and it may also turn out good in
respect to insect activity - BWO nymphs..
There's probably still a few spawning brown trout in the lower elevations. If there are, I'm sure
they will still get stalked and cast at by some local guys but for the most part, the spawn is
over. The high water level has prevented me from being able to tell much about it lately. They
tend to feed heavily for a short time after the spawn and then go back to their normal hiding
If you want to fish for the post spawn browns, I suggest a streamer. The water is back very
clear, so I suggest you fish a streamer early and late and when there's cloud cover.
Otherwise, fishing for the post spawn browns, I would stick with the nymph. For those not very
familiar, these feeding browns won't be in the tailends of the pools out in the open. That would
mostly likely be spawning browns. They will be in the runs, deeper pockets, and heads of
For the most action and fish, and believe it or not, with still just as much opportunity for
hooking a large brown (I said "hook" due to less opportunity to land one due to the light tippet
size) I suggest a hook size #18 imitation of a Blue-winged Olive nymph. Fish it in the current
seams and marginal water, not the fast water.
If the water is in the low to mid forties, keep it on the bottom in the deepest holes out of the
current. The trout are often under fast water in holes out of the main current on the bottom or
behind rocks, but that is difficult water to fish due to the fast surface current. Your fly will end
up "flying" through the slower water unnaturally.
If you see any of the little mayflies hatching, switch to an emerger or fish the nymph as an
emerging nymph with little weight. It's also possible some may take a fly from the surface.
Change to a dun if you see any surface action.
I will resume with more tomorrow.
Copyright 2011 James Marsh
Please be reminded, I'm not trying to write an autobiography. It's my way of explaining how water temperature
affects gamefish and in the end, how it relates to trout. I known that it's a greatly misunderstood subject by most
all anglers and my intent is to give those interested a better understanding of the subject.