You probably thought we were in hibernation here at the undercovertroutbum.com. I suppose you could call it that. But I assure you that we’ve been keeping our eagle-eyes on the rivers and streams from above. Above, you ask? Yes-from several thousand feet above-to be exact. I know, you are thinking-WHAT? Let me explain.

Sometimes you have to go into deep cover to keep everything in line and sometimes out of nowhere, or so it seems; the moon, sun, stars, windsock, and hatches all align and you find something you’ve been searching for-for years. And often, just as it did for me, it[that something] truly comes out of the woodwork or perhaps more from a combination of good deeds, good friends, and hard work. So as real life would have it, for the last few months, I wasn’t able to check in with the rest of you UTBs in the way I thought was proper. I should have pinned you all a short note, I just felt anything less than an article of reasonable length wasn’t going well beyond the call of duty. However, maybe a field report of any length would have been better than nothing. With that being said, we’re toying with the idea of just doing short updates when in deep-cover. You know, like the kind of deep-cover a tangle of laurels provides that choke a stream-side trail off so badly that you think you’ve been caught in a snare and will most likely end up as bear food before you free yourself? Or-perhaps-another UTB on staff? That’s another one to ponder.

Silhouette in Air
10,000ft MSL overlooking the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Frankly, I felt like I was wrestling a black bear for much of my time away. In fact, I think wrestling a black bear might have at least been a more fair fight. Sometimes the things you enjoy can be the greatest challenges in your life but they are certainly more than worth it in the end. Not to mention, when the end result keeps you close to where you like to fish, I mean-why not?

As usual, you are saying to yourself, “What could this possibly have to do with fishing?” Well, nothing really, other than I got a new job that allows me more time on my home waters, more freedom to explore others on trips, and most importantly-the boss understands how much I like to fish. So, I’ve finally reached the point in my life that I feel, I share somewhat of a kindred spirit with a gentleman-R. V. “Gadabout” Gaddis, who’s book, The Flying Fisherman, showed me that you could have it all in life. While I doubt, I’m as an accomplished fisherman as Gadabout, it certainly appeared to me that he enjoyed hopping, “puddle to puddle,” via the sky during his lifetime just as much as I do now. I certainly wish I could have met you-Mr. Gaddis.¹

Let’s not overlook this added bonus, being that tall tales of fish and flying stories NEVER get old regardless of if they are unleashed at the bar, hangar, or the fly-fishing shop-local or abroad. You just have to be careful when you say,”It is this…I mean…was…that BIG…when you are in the bar because you just don’t know how someone will take it-you know?

Really this sideline couldn’t have come at a better time because-well you know-it was winter time and while streamer, nymph and midge action persist-zebra midges are my best friend-repeat after me-with the temps and heavy rains we’ve been having up until now there wasn’t much action that I’d have missed locally that didn’t require at least some discomfort. My hibernation was due in part to mandatory training for that beast of an aircraft pictured above and below and it was as fun as fishing. Why you ask? Because you get the same feeling trying to survive a wind-shear demo in the simulator as you do when a big brown smashes a streamer and you wonder if you can hang on to her all the way to the net. I’ve figured out that if re-incarnation does exist, I want to come back as an eagle. To fly and fish as your job-tell me what could be better? Along the way, you raise a family, try to hang on to your wing-gal [or wing-man] and pick a spot to build a nest with the best view possible. Yes-I’m certain-an eagle-I would be.

View of the GSMNP from my, nest
View of the GSMNP from my, “nest.”

So while I was in hibernation, so to speak, I was able to keep an eye on the browns, rainbows and brooks-albeit from a distance. And when I finally made it on the water mid-March, the fish forgave me regarding my absence. As usual, there were somewhat sporadic hatches-mostly midges- until the sun hit the water. Before that time, zebra midges worked well but when the sun hit and stuck for a while, the surface fishing absolutely exploded and you would see the occasional blue quill trying its best to escape the awakening.

Wild Brook Trout from a Tellico tributary.
Wild Brook Trout from a Tellico tributary-Sycamore Creek.

The one above smashed a blue quill just as it finished a bit of a rough ride and started a perfect drift into calmer waters. A fine young lady from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency was watching us fish and modeled this healthy brookie for the photos above and below as she also examined the fish. She remarked that the water temperature had reached 52ºF and from the way the fish were striking-you could tell. The fry would nibble away at your fly like a school of piranhas; eventually sinking it even when doused with gobs of the best floatant.

Trout Theme Nail Polish & Wild Brook Trout
Trout Theme Nail Polish and Wild Brook Trout

I believe her level of devotion to the trout fishery speaks for itself. I’ve always been partial to a deep burgundy for nail polish but I’m a changed man in that regard. We do appreciate what you do for us-TWRA. As you now know, I travel a lot for work and when I compare my home waters to the trout waters of other states, I still believe Tennessee trout fishing is one of the best kept secrets. There are not many places in the Southeast that you can take a short walk and be on brookies. As I’ve said before, if you are trying to get your kids hooked on wild trout fishing, dragging them for miles into the back-country, bushwhacking as you go, is just going to make them want to stay home and plug themselves back into their tablets, laptops and TV. You have to ease them into that kind of insanity. Sycamore Creek is the perfect, easy access, destination for them to catch not just wild trout but native wild trout and when they get tired or the fish don’t cooperate, just take them to the hatchery which is also a short walk away and let them feed the fish. Put some change in your pocket before you leave the house and buy some fish food from the vending machine on-site. You can find more information about this adventure at the following links, Tellico Fish Hatchery-TWRA and Cherokee National Forest Fishing Regulations-Sycamore Creek.

Unfortunately, these pictures don’t do these wild trout justice. Everyone needs to see them in person and when you do, you’ll understand just what I mean. The brookies are truly, “Jewels of the East Tennessee Mountains.” There are several places to catch them not just in the Tellico Ranger district but all across eastern Tennessee, some more readily accessible than others but they are out there UTBs. Go forth and find them…

Me & B Landing a Wild Brook Trout
Me & B Landing a Wild Brook Trout

The following week, I returned to Sycamore Creek with my oldest son and caught more brookies along with non-native species-rainbow trout. From what I understand, the hope has been to restore this particular stream to by-gone days before rainbows and browns swam amongst the jewels, therefore, when we caught rainbows off of a custom stimulator pattern, we elected to turn them into hors d’oeuvres; hopefully saving the lives of thousands of young brookies. It’s not often you get to fish and be a hero in the same day.

Wild Rainbow that couldn't resist a custom tied stimulator pattern.
Wild Rainbow that couldn’t resist a custom tied stimulator pattern.

The rainbow above wasn’t the only rainbow that fell for this pattern. He had followers…much to their chagrin. Of course, then I was left with trying to remember what I used for the wing and body material. Other than grizzly hackle, I’m really not sure what the composition might be. Aging-if you find a way to avoid it-I’d recommend doing so! The pattern was a one-off, tied after witnessing a rainbow surfacing from the depths of a pool, right at the base of my feet at the waters edge and smashing something with the same color and shape as the over-wing of this custom stimulator. He spit it out as fast as he took it and disappeared again. The rainbow had rocketed out of the depths for this object, just as a Great White shark would a seal. The object was nothing more than some kind of triangular flower pod that was floating on the surface and this occurred in late October of 2013. My daughter and I, remembering the characteristics, started brainstorming and below is what we concocted. Well-it worked. I’m sure there is already something out there like it. But now you can put it in your proven arsenal, too. I’ve been calling it the In-Vol-n-tary Stimulator-in honor of my home-The Volunteer State.

Custom stimulator pattern that the rainbow above just couldn't resist. Neither could his buddies.
Custom stimulator pattern that the rainbow above just couldn’t resist. Neither could his buddies.

Later that same day at home, the unfortunate decisions[for them] these rainbows made landed them in a beer-based stew boil. There is no way you can fillet something this size, so if you boil them just long enough that skin separates and the meat falls off the bones-you are good-to-go. There is nothing that tastes like a trout that is eating only what nature provides in the mountains. Normally, we’d have tossed something this size back in but based off of the circumstances outlined above, the rainbows were in the wrong place at the right time for us.

The best part is that we didn’t have to wrestle a black bear for our dinner. The downside for you is that you must look at the date of this post and ask yourself- would a fisherman ever lie?

Until next time, keep the blue side up and your line mended.


Giving credit where credit is due:

     1. R. V. “Gadabout” Gaddis, The Flying Fisherman (New York: Trident Press, 1967), 1