Lately I have been chasing bugs, the kind trout eat of course. This has been mostly happening with clients on guided trips, but I’ve managed to sneak in a little fishing for myself as well. In the Smokies, the spring smorgasbord is looking great. Area tailwaters are starting to get more interesting also, especially if the Hiwassee is your destination.
First, let’s focus on the Smokies. The Quill Gordons and Blue Quills are just about over. In the last few days I’ve spotted some stragglers still hatching, but that should be about over now. In their place, the Blue-winged Olives are coming on strong along with the yearly Hendricksons which show up at the same time as the dogwoods each year.
Speaking of the dogwoods, it looks like dogwood winter is here now. Expect freezing overnight temperatures at least in the higher elevations this upcoming Friday and Saturday night.
Along with the expected mayflies, I saw what looked an awful lot like a Sulfur just last evening in the Smokies. That is at minimum a couple of weeks early and probably more like three but who knows when it comes to the bugs. Little Black Caddis are peaking and the usual Early Brown Stoneflies and Little Black Stoneflies are hatching in good numbers. In other words, the trout are happily fed right now although you have to work to find them at times.
The abundance of food means the trout can afford to be lazy. They will be most active just before and during the hatches so mornings are a little slow. Nymphing is the best way to go early but by around lunch time the fish start to look up. The dry fly bite is good well into the evening hours. This is a good time to fish true gentlemen’s hours, hitting the water around 10:00 a.m. to nymph the last couple of hours before trout start to rise well. Once the fish start looking up, find your favorite dry fly pool and wait for the noses to poke out of the water. My favorite strategy is to hit my favorite 3-4 pools over the course of the afternoon which provides some different situations. In one pool the fish will be looking for Hendricksons while in the next you may need a #20 Blue-winged Olive. That game is part of the fun.
On the tailwater scene, my local favorite the Caney Fork is fishing well now as long as you know where to look. The midge hatches are getting stronger every day and the fish are responding well to the right imitations. This time of year keep your nymphs a little larger but don’t forget that trailing midge.
The Hiwassee River is the real gem right now. Flows are perfect for the wading angler as upstream reservoirs are allowed to fill for the summer. The river is chock full of spunky trout including some nice ones. The Hendricksons and Blue-winged Olives are on and providing a feast. Midges, while much less noticeable as compared to the larger and more glamorous mayflies, are hatching in tremendous numbers and a larva or pupa imitation can be killer when nothing else seems to work. Nymphing with Hendrickson nymphs and caddis pupa will get it done when the fish aren’t looking up and when they are looking up as well. If you are like me, you’ll fish a dry fly with a nymph or pupa as a dropper to keep that rod bent. That strategy led me to a 60+ fish afternoon last week so it definitely has some merit if you just want to catch fish. The dry fly purists will have a lot of fun as well though. Caddis hatches continue to grow stronger day by day. This river is a bug factory so get out while the hatches and fishing is good!
The Clinch is fishing well as are all the other east Tennessee tailwaters. A few reports of some early Sulfurs have been floating around and the nymphing and midge fishing will always be strong here and on the South Holston. The Watauga is getting into its prime spring hatch season right now also. Expect lots of boat traffic in the quality section, but lots of good fish can be caught if you are in the right spot.
Smallmouth bass are really heating up now as well. Streamers will get the job done here on the Cumberland Plateau streams. A few fish have already been caught on topwater flies in the lowland rivers, but wait a few more weeks for that bite to really get going. Musky are still a viable target as well with flows allowing us to get the boat down our favorite rivers.