Monday, June 12, 2017

Trout and good times abound on the Oconaluftee River

The Oconaluftee River is not only beautiful, but also filled with rainbow and brown trout.
For a Floridian, few things are better than driving north and getting the opportunity to fly fish for cold-water-trout.

The author and a nice rainbow trout.
When my wife informed me that we were going to spend a week in Gatlinburg, Tenn., with family, I was thrilled. Not only would I spend quality time with family, but also (hopefully) get a chance to wet a line.

I was correct on both counts.

There are numerous streams around the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge area of Tennessee. But they might as well be scarce when you're a warm-water angler and unaccustomed to fly fishing for trout. There's a learning curve there.

I succeeded, but not without help.

I spent a day on the Little River which was just a short drive from our mountain-top cabin. Though the stream is picturesque, it's also heavily fished. Access points are plentiful along the road that parallels the river. Because the accesses are plentiful and easy, the stream gets fished quite a lot. So, you can bet trout in the Little River have seen every fly and every tactic.

Guide Travis Williams
Still, I caught and released three small rainbows -- quite a feat for this humble Floridian. But I knew to really figure things out, I needed the expertise of a local guide. I found that guide at The Smoky Mountain Angler (, a quaint little fly shop in Gatlinburg. There, I connected with Travis Williams, a Gatlinburg native who also is a Gatlinburg Police officer.

When not patrolling the city's streets, you can find Williams on one of the many streams around the area.

The morning of our scheduled outing, I met Williams at the shop where I put on a set of waders and a pair of felt-soled boots. We then jumped in his GMC Yukon for the 45-minute drive to the Oconaluftee River in North Carolina, just a stone's throw from Cherokee, N.C.

We began catching fish almost immediately on tandem-rigged pheasant-tail nymphs under a strike indicator.

Most of the rainbow trout were small, ranging from six to 12 inches in length. However, we also managed to land a few of 15 inches or more. And we had a couple of fish from 17 to 20 inches before the hook pulled or they broke the 5X tippet.

We also caught a pair of small brown trout.
Another beautiful rainbow trout.

The bigger trout that we encountered were "dumb stockers," according to Williams, who explained they were stocked into Cherokee Reservation waters and made the short swim upstream.

At mid-afternoon, we opted to spent the rest of the outing targeting native brook trout, a species that is usually small and found high in the mountains. We drove to a stream that cascaded down a mountainside at about 6,000 feet. The stream was maybe 10 feet wide in places with pools located along the way. Targeted each pool with a dry fly-and-nymph combo. We hooked a couple of the colorful and wild brookies, but didn't land one. We were able to land a couple of small rainbows that also are fairly plentiful in the diminutive streams.

We didn't get out Slam -- a rainbow, brown and brook trout in one day.

There's always next time.

Successful trout fishing is knowing not only what flies to use, but also being able to identify where trout likely are hiding. It was easy with Williams there to assist. By mid-morning, I was able to figure out where the trout likely were.

For most of the morning, we used a 10-foot, 2-weight fly rod.

"We use the 10-footers because they make it easier to keep line off the water," Williams explained.

Most of the time, we had little more than a foot of fly line outside the rod tip. That allowed us to fish the small holes correctly and with the right drift.

I was amazed that we could be so close to the spots and catch fish.

Most of our fish seemed to home in on the nymphs. Although we tried a dry fly, we only caught a fish or two on the surface.

I told Williams a couple of times during our outing that I can see how trout fishing in those beautiful waters could be addicting.

Don't know when I'll get back. I hope it's not long.

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