Great Smoky Mountains Fishing Report 12/09/14
The Clinch River:
This is one of the first tailwaters I fished in the late 1990's when Angie and I first
started fly fishing in the Tennessee area. My brother had a boat and we usually
fished with him, but there were many times we waded. We have fished it off and on
for the last several years due to its fairly close proximity to Pigeon Forge. I haven't
fished it much in the past three years due to Perfect Fly growing pains. I usually just
hit the park when I have a chance to fish. We traveled from coast to coast and fly
fishing for trout for around fourteen years, staying gone far more than we spent at
home, sometimes as much as two or three months at a time.
I'll never forget doing a video on the Madison River (the tailwater outside Yellowstone
National Park) with a local guide that was complaining that the river was up about 8 to
10 inches from its normal level. I responded with "you should fish the Clinch River". I
continued to say it rises and falls in feet at times. I don't think he believed me. He
responded with I'll ask Jeff Fisher. He was a regular guide for the Tennessee Titans
head coach Jeff Fisher, who had a vacation home in Montana nearby where we were
fishing. I said, please do but I don't know if he ever fishes the Clinch or not but may
fish Caney Fork which is about as bad. I continued to tell him I dated Fisher's private
secretary a few times when she came to the beach at Panama City, but never met
Fisher even though she offered me special tickets to the games. That's a long story
to say, most tailwaters in the west don't seem to normally vary near as much as the
Clinch unless it's runoff time. To catch trout consistently on the Clinch, you have to
fish the river a lot under varying conditions to know how to deal with the level
changes. This is true of most of the TVA tailwaters. You have to do some calculating
to determine when the water is going to be low enough at certain point on the stream
to wade, or for that matter high enough to float. It takes water levels a long time to
change far downstream when the discharge rates change at the dam. I call tailwaters,
"part time fisheries" because much of the time you can't wade them safely, and often
you must use a drift boat, something I'm not all that fond of. Sometimes, you can't fish
them at all. The river is flowing and rolling big time as I write this.
Now, first of all, the Clinch is a stocked trout stream - period. All of its trout come from
a hatchery. You can talk about its ability to produce stream-bred trout all you want
and in fact it does produce some. I know because we have caught a few of them in
our kick nets and night-time, aquatic insect traps. I don't think the state stocks any
trout that are only one or two inches long. However, that written, I seriously doubt the
streams ability to produce many trout on its own. Why do I mention this is a stocked
stream with no wild trout? When you hear someone say they caught twenty trout on
the Clinch, or any other stocked trout stream for that matter, you're not getting a
heck of a lot of worthwhile information. The significance of that depends on the fish
caught, whether they are holdover, fish that have been in the river for a few months,
or trout that have been in the stream a few days. Actually, knowing who caught what,
when and where is of little value even on a wild trout stream when it gets right down
to it, but my point is, at the right time and place you might catch twenty trout on the
Clinch with a piece of red bubble gum on your hook, especially if you can still see the
tire tracks of the stocking truck. The newly stocked trout will eat about anything for a
few days but then gradually they begin to get a little wiser as time goes by having to
rely on the food in the stream to eat. This includes the brooks, browns and rainbows.
The brown trout are a completely different animal though. Once they get about a
foot long, they begin to rely mostly on baitfish for their food. This isn't true
everywhere. I have caught lots of large brown trout up to 26 inches in the San Juan
River on midges I couldn't see and had to get Angie to tie on for me. Unlike the
Clinch, it has few baitfish. If it had lots of baitfish like the Clinch, the large browns
would probably ignore the midges. There is one huge plus to fly fishing the Clinch
River. You always have a chance to catch a very large brown trout. Yes, we can do
that in the park, but your odds are much better in the Clinch. The Clinch has lots of
baitfish and they don't have any problem catching all they need to grow big. They
tend to leave the insects alone once they have been in the river for a few months. It
is too easy for them to eat fish. By the way, there are also some big rainbows caught
from the Clinch.
In my way of thinking, this all gets down to what amounts to three basic things.
Catching the stockers that haven't been in the stream long; catching those that
have been there a couple of months or more and thirdly, catching the
holdovers that have remained there for at least a year. The later are mostly all
larger size brown trout. How you go about catching each of these three stages of
hypothetical fish depends on the timing, food supply at the time, stream levels, and
water temperature. I think all three of these usually, but not always, require different
strategies and techniques.
I get a big kick out of all the self-proclaimed Clinch River experts. There are some
very knowledgeable ones and some that quite obviously are about as dense as the
rocks in the river. I'm not trying to knock anyone; however, when it gets down to their
knowledge of the aquatic insects and other foods the stream has to offer, most all of
them seem to be stuck in the first grade. I'm aware that some guys have spent a
great deal of time capturing and trying to identify the insects. I'm also aware of one
gentlemen who was thought to have done a good job of it. I have seen a lot of
information about other's undertakings. I have also seen a heck of a lot of confusion
about it. A few years ago, we spent several days at different times of the year,
catching and identifying its aquatic insects. I had to send some off via FEDX to
professional entomologist to help me identify them.
To make it simple, the Clinch has a huge population of certain insects, baitfish,
sculpin and crustaceans, but not a huge diversity. That written, its food is diverse
compared to many tailwaters. Basically, any tailwater will have the same insects that
were in the river prior to construction of the lake, but then things change due to
different water temperatures, pH levels and oxygen content created by discharges
from the lake. The different levels of water in the lake, creates a different water
chemistry from that of the original freestone river. The dams of deep lakes change a
lot of the things that live in a river and quite drastically.
Something else that few realize, is the aquatic insect population in most tailwaters
changes drastically depending on the distance you are from the dam. As a general
rule, most of the time, the further downstream you go, the warmer the water gets.
That changes the population and types of aquatic insects drastically. Some hatches
tend to move up and down the river at different times due to this and others only exist
in certain areas of the river.
The Clinch usually has a good flow of cold water. It also has a good population of
didymo but as far as we are concerned, it has only served to increase the population
of some aquatic insects. Although I've not checked it out throughly, I haven't found
that it has reduced the numbers of any species of aquatic insects, or at least, not
substantially. It possibly could have altered some species. Aquatic insects and
crustaceans need hiding places as well as trout and it does seem to provide that.
The big thing I see as a problem are the strippers. Anyone that thinks they don't
have an effect on the population of the trout have zero knowledgeable about
Stripped Bass. That written, I'm not saying they have hurt the population to a critical,
or very adverse standpoint. Surely, the biologist can determine that by shocking test
and making comparisons to numbers of stocked trout, etc. Maybe they have and
aren't making it public. I just know you can still catch plenty of trout in the Clinch and
when conditions are good, lots of them. I have not dealt with the state of Tennessee
fishery guys and don't intend to.
As far as food for the trout goes, there are probably more scuds and sowbugs in the
Clinch (in terms of bulk) than anything other than fish species. You can't go wrong
fishing an imitation of them just about anytime of the year. In terms of sheer numbers,
I'm sure there are more midges than anything. Every sample we have taken from a
kick net and placed in a white plate to look at had a huge number of midges. Most of
them are shades of cream and light green but there are also a lot of blood (red)
midges. We have Perfect Fly imitations of midge larvae, pupae and adults that are
a cream color, light green color and a red color which imitates the blood midges. The
blood midges are burrower type larvae that require soft soil. By the way, the blood
midge adults are black and white, not red. There are many variations of these colors
of midges in the Clinch and all midge larvae and pupae have segmentations that
make them appear to be two-toned, or two colors. We have found that the above
three colors account for about 90% of all midges in cold water trout streams. On the
Clinch, day in and day out, you can't go wrong fishing a midge larva and pupa
combination in tandem or as a dropper. We recommend fishing the adult patterns
only when you see them on the surface of the water during a hatch.
I have heard and read that there are not any Blue-winged olives in the Clinch. Well,
the problem with that is what is a blue-winged olive? The last time I checked, common
names are completely worthless when it comes to truly identifying any insect. The
name is commonly used for over a hundred different species of mayflies and not only
that, from several different genera and even worse, from three completely different
families of mayflies. I will say this about the BWO. We have never found any Baetis
species in the Clinch but that is only one genera of many that are rightly called
BWOs. We have found five different species of what are commonly called BWOs
there in the larvae stage of life for at least three-fourths of the year, and I assume
they are eggs the other times. You cannot go wrong, most of the year, using a size
18 or 20 BWO, or swimming nymph. Facts are, there are two of the species we have
found that are closer to a size 22 or even a 24 for the males.
Here is another thing that few anglers realize about the Clinch. About everyone talks
about the Sulphur mayflies but all but a couple of guys I know, call what is rightly a
Pale Evening Dun, a Sulphur. There are two different species of mayflies anglers call
Sulphurs in the Clinch. By the way, the same is true of the South Holston
River. These two mayflies are similar in appearance but different in their behavior
and even their preferred habitat. The two species are the Ephemerella dorothea,
correctly called a Sulphur, and the Ephemerella invaria, or Pale Evening Dun. There
are some important differences in color, hatch times, habitat and methods of imitating
them. You will notice the Pale Evening Duns are more of a cream or tan color, than a
sulphur color like the slightly smaller Sulphurs. The nymphs of both of these mayflies
are crawlers and are out and about, available to the trout, a couple of weeks prior to
There are a lot of other insects in the clinch, as well as some terrestrials that get in
the water at times. Little Black Caddis, Ciinamon Sedges, Little Sister Caddis, a huge
population of aquatic worms, lots of different moth species, Crane flies, Black flies,
and even a few large Drake mayflies. I will get into these bugs and more about fly
fishing on the Clinch River tomorrow. Presentation is a huge key for fishing the Clinch
and I will deal with that also. By the way, I am not going to edit this. This isn't for a
book. Please just ignore my grammar and other errors and send a check for all the
Smoky Mountain Weather:
Yikes, big changes in yesterday's slight chance of rain. Today, showers are likely,
mainly after 1pm. It will be cloudy with a high near 42. Northwest wind will range from
5 to 10 mph. The chance of precipitation is 60%. Tonight, expect a chance of more
rain showers before midnight, then a chance of snow showers between midnight and
1am, then a chance of snow showers and freezing rain after 1am. The low will around
31. The chance of precipitation is 40%. This means it is going to snow in the park
quite a bit.
Wednesday, will be partly sunny with a high near 41. Northwest wind around 5 mph.
Smoky Mountain Stream Conditions:
The streams with links that have nearby USGS Station Real-time stream data:
Little River: Rate 272 cfs at 2.10 ft.
(good wading conditions up to 250 cfs, and with extra caution up to 400 cfs)
Oconaluftee River: Rate 430 cfs at 177 ft.
(good wading conditions up to 500 cfs, and with extra caution up to 700 cfs)
Cataloochee Creek: Rate 77 cfs at 2.45 ft
(good wading conditions up to 125 with extra caution up to 150 cfs)
Little Pigeon River doesn't have a station nearby but it was high yesterday
Hazel Creek and the other larger NC streams flowing into Fontana Lake: Based on
the precipitation report, they have to be high.
Current Recommended Streams: I would fish the lower elevation streams.
Recommended Trout Flies:
1. Blue-winged Olives:
Hook Size 20/18/16
2. Brown and White Belly Sculpins:
Hook Size 6
3. Cream Midges: 20/22
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.
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 or small
Blue-winged Olives. Switch to the adult Cream Midge, if it is midges hatching, or the
BWO Dun or emerger, if it is the BWOs.
Tips for Beginners:
Tips for the Self Proclaimed Experts:
Whatever Hits Me:
Thank you for visiting our site. James Marsh, Pending CFO
(Chief Fishing Officer) Perfect Fly
Copyright 2014 James Marsh
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