Generally speaking I find that there are two types of fly anglers. People that prefer to fish solo and people that would rather fish with a buddy. Fishing solo has its own unique merits. However, I want to focus on how you can use the buddy system to work water more efficiently and catch more fish.

How can you work water more efficiently while fishing with another person? Cooperation and communication are critical. This can take time to develop with another angler but is well worth it. In the small streams of WNC it can be difficult to spread anglers out on the water without spooking fish. Fish each hole/run as it comes and let the topography of the river decide how you move through it. If the lay of the land allows you to leapfrog your partner without spooking their fish, go for it. If not, wait until your partner has fished out the hole or run. This will allow you both the work more water than you could solo while not spooking fish for each other. Your partner can hold you accountable as far as how much time you spend fishing a run. Your partner can also and serve as a spotter. Lastly, when you hook into a fish, your partner can help net the fish. Working in tandem allows you to cover more water more efficiently, and help land fish quicker which benefits the fish. 

Once you have established a flow with your fishing partner you can begin working on ways to catch more fish while fishing with each other. How you both intend to set up your rods for the day is something to spend some time deliberating on. This is very water type dependent advice so consider what techniques suit the water best and go from there. Dry dropper fishing is the most popular way to fish in our part of Western North Carolina. While preparing to fish with a friend I would stagger your fly selection regardless of your chosen fishing method. Don’t throw the same bugs as each other, try different flies, fly sizes, and depths. This will allow you to figure out what bugs are hot as well as which part of the water column the trout are feeding in faster than if you were fishing alone. 

When I guide I will bring several rods with me for the day. Inevitably, when a client asks why I brought so many I use the golf club analogy. I’m not a golfer by any means but my response is always “you wouldn’t go golfing with just a driver”. Golfers use a variety of clubs that are suited for certain situations. Similarly, I bring multiple rods that are setup for specific techniques or water types. You and your fishing partner can use the same approach using two or three rods. When you determine what type of rig would work best for a run, you can reach for the rod that is best suited for the situation. This reduces the amount of time you spend rigging on the water and keeps you fishing longer. 

Aside from the other reasons mentioned, fishing with a friend is more fun. Cracking jokes on each other, helping each other out when a good fish is hooked, and sharing the stoke of a cool eat are just a few of my favorite reasons to fish with friends. Almost all of my favorite memories on the water are ones I made with those close to me. All of the images in this article are the product of the buddy system. Fishing with friends can not only increase your efficiency as an angler but it also enhances the experience as a whole. 

 

Like the local heron, JP stalks a side channel of the mighty white river.

 

It was probably 5 pm on a chill November evening when the rag tag crew of fishermen bound for the rolling hills of Cotter Arkansas arrived at the Trophy water fly shop in Hampton Tennessee. Since we all had time consuming jobs at the time, we persuaded ourselves that it would be worth losing the sleep to just drive through the night and ensure an extra day of fishing. That sounded like a way better plan than it actually was… 

Two SUV’s full to the brim with fishing gear, boat equipment and a couple of stankin’ fishing bums sped through the night, gnawing away at the nearly 700-mile journey we had to complete by morning. At the time all we had to float in was our Buddy Seth’s Ro Deville and an Avon fishing raft that was older than any single person on the trip, which didn’t have a trailer. So, my brother Skye built one out of an old sea doo trailer especially for this trip. Souped up with a new steel tongue and wood platform that bad boy had to weigh 2,000 pounds. Nevertheless, it held the raft just right and we were going to send it.  As we sped down the highway toward the western end of the vastness that is Tennessee all I could think about was how many rotations per second those 8-inch wheels were going at 8o mph and if we would make it to Kentucky before they flew off in a blaze of glory.  Luckily, that never happened and as the night pressed on and the gas stations became more and more Podunk and sketchy, delirium started to set in. At about 6 am, Arkansas time, we were driving down the road that our cabin was on. The blue tint of dawn was starting to appear when I stuck my upper body out of the sunroof of Skye’s 4runner and hollered “We finally made it!” 

COTTER Population 921  

The mid-western town is famously known for Brown trout fishing and the abundance of such fish. The size of the river and the constant stocking of small rainbows allow these predators to grow quite big and aggressive toward bait fish, aka the meat in my streamer box. 

The Morning of our drive in was a bust for Seth and me, we hit the couches and slept while the other boys went fishing for the rest of the day, like animals. When we picked them up that evening the fishing report was slightly grim. They had been skunked, although, I will  let this be known. Anyone who shows up to a new fishery and slays them is just lucky, we were completely aware of how long it can take to dial in a fishery and that’s exactly why we were planning to spend a week in this beautiful place. Accompanied by some geodes we found in the yard and an armadillo we made our first meal on the grill and enjoyed some beers while we talked about our float plan for the following days. 

 

The elusive Avon in her natural habitat

The Generators on the white wouldn’t be running like we had hoped so we were bound to fish the low water flows of the huge freestone river. 

Such a big river really needs the water from the generators to move with any sort of giddy up. Most of the river was essentially a giant flat of slow-moving water, which is probably why everyone that is serious about fishing on the White has a power boat. 

But as they say, Suffering builds character and nothing beautiful comes from a lack of effort. You could say we persevered and conquered that giant river all the while it taught us all how to be better streamer fisherman and oarsmen. 

The ole Deville sitting below the Cotter bridge and a crisp sunrise.

If your planning a trip to the White, may I suggest having every flavor of streamer in your box. 

Ozark cut-throat trout

Seth caught our unicorn of the trip pulling a well-placed fly across a beautiful grass bed.

To top off our luck we suffered through a wicked rain squall our first full day on the river. Worth it though. 

 

If there’s one thing that trout will teach you; Letting go can be a beautiful thing 

 

 

Skye hoisting a small portion of Arkansas gold 

 

 

How I caught this fish is a perfect representation of this trip as a whole:

It felt like we had been floating over this pebble flat for days by the time I had noticed a deeper channel hugging the river right bank. Between us and the channel was a very skinny bit of water and with a little bit of skillful maneuvering JP was able to get us into a fishable distance from the incredible looking habitat; long green river grasses weaved between big boulders and colorful river rock, it was true oasis for any fish for at least a mile and sweet sight for sore eyes. A well-placed cast was answered by this stud that I knew just had to be in there. 

We put in a lot of faith expecting to show up to an abundance of big fish ready to crush, but the abundance never came. We spent 5 days waking up at 4:45am to freezing temperatures and fished til’ dark everyday. We were rewarded every now and again when we came across various types of trout oasis in the vast freestone tailwater.

Making the best of the outdoors with good friends and learning about how to be a better advocate for our natural world have been the most important things I’ve gained from each fishing trip I’ve been on. Its not always about getting into the best fishing you’ve ever experienced, but to learn how to better experience life in general. 

We worked hard and worked together, everyone caught a fish over or near 20 inches and ultimately that was our goal, catch big browns, a buzz and have a good time with our buds. 

And after 3 long years we’ll be returning in February 2021. Stay tuned and Stay with it.

The Winter Solstice has ushered in the winter trout fishing season. For some anglers this signals the beginning of beer drinking and fly tying season. However, for those that want to brave the elements, winter can be a great time to target larger trout on streamers. 

 

Light tippet and midges characterize winter fly fishing. Sizing your flies down to 18, 20, 22 and even smaller is key to success when bug fishing in the winter. The wintertime diet of a trout is primarily made up of midges and other smaller macroinvertebrates. Most people do not think of winter as a great time for streamer fishing because trout become more lethargic as their metabolisms slow down in the cold water and are less likely to swim very far for a meal. Trout are opportunistic feeders by nature and winter provides ample opportunity to eat with the influx of midges in the water. If trout are less likely to move for food then how should you target them using streamers?

Your streamer presentation during the colder months of the year is critical to getting an eat. Let’s examine some of the variables to consider when winter streamer fishing. First is fish location. During colder months expect larger fish to be holding in large deep pools, undercuts, and beneath log jams. These locations offer trout food and security without much effort to stay there. Streamer depth and speed are also important. Low and slow is usually the name of the game during this time of year.

 

Either use heavy streamers, sink-tip lines, or even full sink lines to ensure you are hitting the correct depth. The correct depth is either on the same plane as the fish or just above the fish. As far as streamer speed is concerned, the slow swing or longer slow strips will help make the streamer more visible as well as look more obtainable to the trout. Trout are opportunistic so consider these aspects of streamer presentation in order to emulate an easy, larger calorie feeding opportunity. One fish can feed a trout for days. This is a low-risk high-reward feeding opportunity, particularly when compared to the alternative of gorging on hundreds of midges in a day. 

 

So what streamers to use? Mini Dungeon, Head Banger Sculpin, Full Size Dungeon, and Peanut Envy are some of our guides’ favorites.

      Wether it’s a thermos full of coffee or hand warmers, it’s always a good idea to bring some small comforts while fishing in the cold. As our winter continues to progress eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina, we will see temperatures in the mid to upper thirties. Some days can even get into the low teens and It’s essential to stay warm and dry in conditions like this. When these seasonal changes are happening we can also except to see changes in bug life and even water conditions. For example, on the South Holston tail race there is a transition from summer sulfurs to winter blue wing olives. While bug fishing can be good year round, It’s never a bad idea to chuck a streamer in the winter as large predatory fish are looking for quick high protein meal. On unregulated rivers, (not dam operated) a general rule of thumb is lower clearer water. This could make the trout spooky and could call for a downsize in tippet or even the fly. The cold can cause the trout to become sluggish. When you can obviously see or know there’s fish feeding but you can’t buy a fish, an adjustment in depth or cast placement may cause a strike.
     Don’t let the cold get to you, remember that trout have to be in the water all winter! Although trout are a cold water fish there is still a point when they begin to hunker down. Typically you will begin to find trout in slower deeper runs, in eddies or slack water because less energy is required to hold in these locations. Keep in mind food is relatively scarce during these times and a fish will want to exert a minimal amount of energy. Trout will also become less willing to travel far for a meal so a more accurate presentation could be needed. Getting in tune with your local fisheries and find out what food sources are available year round. For example in our area midges are a very common “fish finder” and can turn up results in tough conditions. Finding the fish or the right bug isn’t always the battle. Frozen guides can be extremely frustrating and it’s pretty hard to avoid. Try adding a very small dab of Gink to the guides. This isn’t a permanent fix but it can slow the water from building up and freezing. What’s worse than frozen guides? Frozen boots! Starting the day trying to jam your foot into a solid ice boot is not only impossible but if you manage to get in, it’s like your own person toe freezer before you even hit the water. So plan ahead and keep those wet boots from the day before above freezing temps if possible.

With the Delayed Harvest waters freshly stocked once again, the fishing locally has been as good as it gets! Valle Crucis is yet again loaded with hungry trout that can be caught fishing smaller nymphs and midgets dropped below an attractor such as squirmy worms or Pats Rubber Legs. On warmer days, dry droppers can also be equally as effective and can help prevent spooking more finicky fish. Additionally, the Hatchery Supported sections are now officially open again and will stay that way until the last day in February.

The tail waters down in Tennessee are also fishing exceptionally and still heating up as we approach the much-anticipated caddis hatch. Trips are filling up quickly for spring so be sure to give us a call to get yours booked today!

It’s been a few weeks since the Delayed Harvest sections here in the Highcountry were stocked again for spring, and they are fishing exceptionally well. Size 16-20 nymphs dropped below a larger attractor (egg patterns, squirmy worm, etc.) have been very productive. On warmer days, you can also watch for fish rising. If you do see them, dry droppers are always a good go to for those conditions. When fishing dry droppers, throwing bulkier dry flies such as stimulators and elk hair caddis can be effective as they are more buoyant and make it easier to tell when a strike is occurring.

They will also be stocking all of the Delayed Harvest waters again in the beginning of April. For a complete list of the dates they will be stocking each river you can go to http://www.ncwildlife.org/Portals/0/Fishing/documents/Delayed-Harvest-Trout-Waters-Stocking-Dates-Map.pdf . Additionally, all Hatchery Supported sections will be opening up again on Saturday, April 7th. So get your rods ready and come on by the shop to stock up on any gear you may need for the upcoming season!

 

 

 

It’s hard to believe it’s actually still February with temperatures here in the Highcountry getting into the low 70s this week. That being said, it’s a fisherman’s dream come true! Yesterday there were reports of large hatches of BWOs making for some (much-anticipated) phenomenal dry fly action so be sure to keep an eye out for any hatches when out on the water. That being said, if you don’t want to fully commit to fishing dry flies, a dry dropper setup can be a very successful setup to fish this time of year.

With all this warm weather lately, all of the local rivers have been fishing well. Valle Crucis is still going strong, as well as the Toe and the New river. The delayed harvest sections should also be restocked in the coming weeks so get your gear ready for some great spring fishing. And if you have any questions about local spots and hot patterns to fish, stop on by the shop and we’ll be glad to give you some local knowledge!

 

Lots of rain in the High Country and Boone area the last few days. Good news for the local streams and tailwaters alike since we definitely need it for our great spring fishing coming up! Local streams have returned to normal levels after the weekends rains, add that to the fact that we will be having spring-like temperatures in the forecast for the 10 days or so makes it a perfect time to shake off the winter doldrums!

South Holston and Watauga River 

The “sluicing” continues on the South Holston River. The flows have been steady, making it possible to comfortably float the entire river. These flows may change in the coming days putting us into “high water” mode due to the rain our area has received. This only means our rigs will require a little more weight to get the flies down due to the volume of water. The fishing, however, should remain outstanding.   The closed, spawning sections are now open and we are now able to fish the entire river. The spawn has wound down, and the egg bite is starting to transition back into a more “seasonal” diet consisting of blue wings, scuds and ever present midges.

The Watauga River has fished pretty well overall over the course of the last few weeks, but due to the inconsistent flows out of Wilbur Dam, it has maybe been a little less consistent than it’s sister river to the north. Blue Wings, midges and a smattering of scuds have been the go to bugs. Caddis are right around the corner, however, and the fish will be beginning their spring purge on caddis larvae soon!

What we are looking forward to?

Caddis! If you have not heard or read before, the caddis hatch on the Watauga River is a sight to behold. Starting around the middle of April and typically lasting until the first or second week in May, anglers will have the opportunity to experience one of the Easts greatest hatches. If you anticipate a fly fishing trip around the Boone area this spring, make it a point to take a float trip with us for a great event, and even better fishing!

Sulphurs! The sulphur hatch is also quickly approaching. Both the South Holston as well as the Watauga River will host them in beginning in May and June.

 

 

A great brown from a recent float trip down the South Holston River

Solid Watauga River brown trout

Watauga River brown trout

Locals

The ice is gone and the cold weather may be behind us for the time being. We now have mild temperatures and water! Now is a great time to knock the dust off that fly rod and come venture to the High Country for some late winter fly fishing.  Spring-like temperatures should have them fishing great for the foreseeable future.  Outside of this past weekend’s massive rains, our creeks have been running clear with moderate flows. The Delayed Harvest sections around Spruce Pine and Boone, NC still have plenty of fish  and are fishing very well for February. Wild water should also start to pick up for those who want to do a little walking. The heavy rains also may have washed out a lot of “private” water fish so be ready for a “big” surprise.

Let us be a part of your next trip to the High Country and Boone area. Whether it is a float trip down the fantastic South Holston or Watauga River, or you are coming up to enjoy the miles and miles of fantastic, public trout water just minutes from our fly shop, we can make it happen here  at Highland Outfitters.

Give us a call: 828-733-2181

Highland Outfitters Team

People often fail to recognize how much thought and effort goes into making a good first cast when fly fishing. The following will share some of the tricks and tips which I’ve picked up along the way.

What to tie on?

There are a few different strategies which can be used to figure out what fly to use when first arriving at the river. One of which is the simply look around you and see if there are any bugs flying around near the water. Now you may not always be able to tell exactly what insects you see, but if you can at least tell the approximate size and color of the bug, do your best to find the fly in your box that comes closest to matching that profile. Another useful trick is the step into the water and look underneath a few of the rocks in the river as there will almost always be several different insects hiding there. Once you’ve figured out what bugs are in the water, again do your best to match them with a size and pattern in your fly box.

Don’t Spook the Fish!

Trout tend to be especially skittish fish, which means one must approach the river with a lot of caution in order to keep the fish from swimming for cover or shutting down feeding. One thing that can help prevent this is doing your best to avoid casting any shadows over the water as a trout’s only real predatory threats are birds and other animals such as bears and raccoons, all of which can be detected by the shadows they cast. Always try to keep the sun in front of you, and try to crouch when necessary to stay out of the fishes line of sight. Additionally, do your best to cast in front of the fish and avoid landing your fly directly above where the fish is holding, as doing so can scare them off.

Setting the Hook

This can often be one of the most difficult parts of fly fishing. The most important thing to remember is to set the hook DOWNSTREAM! More times than not, a trout is going to take your fly in an upstream direction, meaning if you attempt to set the hook upstream, you will likely pull your fly right out of its mouth and the fish will probably get spooked and leave the area. However, if you set the hook downstream of the fish, you give yourself the best chance of lodging that hook into the fishes mouth, giving you the best chance of landing it!

Finally, a bit of a break from the arctic chill which felt like it was here forever! With the slight rise in temperatures here in the Highcountry, this makes for a great time to get out and do some fishing in one of our many local wild and stocked trout streams. Delayed Harvest waters are still going strong and now that they aren’t frozen solid, those fish will want to eat!

However, the water temps are still going to be slow, meaning the fish will be lethargic and really need to be enticed in order to strike. Fishing attractors such as egg patterns and squirmy worms will help get their attention. These patterns can then be trailed by a smaller nymph or midge (Pheasant Tails, Zebra Midges, Baetis, etc.) can be very effective tactics to find the winter bites. In some cases you may need to literally drift your fly into the fishes mouth to get them to feed.

As always, when heading out during the winter be sure to bundle up and use caution when wading. Bringing a warm hat and gloves, as well as wearing a warm pair of pants and socks under your waders is key. If you don’t have a good pair of fishing gloves or wading socks, come on by and we’ll get you all geared up for the cold and ready to catch some fish!