A Guide to Fly Fishing in The
Smoky Mountains and Tennessee

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Fishing Behind Someone

This subject will touch everyone who has ever gotten up early and driven to their favorite fishing spot only to find that someone has gotten there before you, and you don't have time to drive another hour or two to find another location. This seems to happen more and more as the sport of fly fishing continues to grow and our once secluded spots become known to others.

We know that someone is fishing in front of us because his car is sitting there in our favorite parking space and we can see wet footprints going up the creek ahead of us. We know that some of the fish are going to be “down” but here is what we can do to bring some fish to hand that have not been completely “turned off.” Unless the person has just “split the creek wide open” there are always a few trout that will still be feeding.

We first need to check our clothing to be sure that our colors are drab, and then we need to position ourselves on the side of the creek that does not cause the sun to be revealing our shadow. We then need to look for spots that hold runs or pockets that will be good lies for trout to be waiting for food and fish for them slowly and carefully. We need to be very precise with our presentations to get the fly in the exact spot if we can. I find fishing nymphs under these conditions to be much more productive than dries.

As you work your way up the creek you need to look for small sections of water that the individual in front of you might have passed by. Pockets over to one side, the very upper parts of pools, telltale cuts under banks and openings underneath rock ledges are all hiding spots that need to be worked slowly and completely. As you are moving along the creek you are always staying low or back in the shadows of streamside vegetation and taking advantage of spots where you can make long casts without revealing your self to already wary trout.

If it happens to be early in the season, you may want to add soft weight to slow down your flies. If the water has begun to get warmer and the water levels are dropping, you will want to take off the weight and give extra attention to riffles where fish will be drawn to because of the extra oxygen that they will need under those conditions. Fish can hide in small pockets and runs that are only inches deep. The strikes can be very fast and several fish may be stacked up almost inches apart. Go slowly and fish the same spots only two feet long. You must have all of your senses in a "cat-like readiness" when fishing these spots. Never overlook these spots in the heavy part of the summer.


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Fishing With Nymphs

It has been about 50 years since I first started the practice of nymph fishing. It was a natural growth from my first method of fishing, which was with wet flies. Nymph fishing seemed to be a new procedure in fly fishing and had just started being used in East Tennessee as new types of flies were coming out onto the market. The first method that I saw
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used was almost the same as fishing wet flies since there was no weight used to get the flies down into the lower depths of the water column. Pretty soon we began experimenting with split shot about 12 inches above the fly, and these results were very good. The only method we had to detect strikes was to look at the end of the fly line to see if the line jerked or twitched. At about this time, I began to learn about reading water, and for some time I was shown how to refine this door to a fine art. I was taught to look for all of the possible places that a trout might be hiding and waiting for a live nymph or other type of food to come floating by, pounce on it, and then return quickly to its resting place. It seemed that the key thought was to look for water that was greener and darker, which indicated depth. Along with the green color was the movement of the water. Fast, swift moving water was not desirable for the trout to lie in to rest. Along beside of the swifter water, there runs water slowed and even flowing backwards, and these are the most likely spots for the trout to wait in to rest for food to come floating by.

Hydraulics can be an important factor, and there are many rocks and obstacles in the creek, which can break or disrupt the water flow. Trout can find these spots and use them to their advantage. Rock ledges or outcroppings are also favorite places for big trout to hide and ambush unsuspecting minnows. It is commonly known that trout seek out larger holes for their depth in the colder months and begin to move out and feed in different water columns as the temperature rises.

After several years of fishing nymphs with split shot to get this fly down deep, I learned to tie flies using lead wire as the weighting property. About the same time, I learned to fish a tandem rig style. These two factors along with reading the water began to really have an impact on the number and size of fish that I caught. The method that I used to tie on the tandem rig was to tie an improved clinch knot to the eye of the point fly and leave about 10-12 inches of leader material to tie on the dropper fly with using another improved clinch knot. For many years, this was the method that I used for nymph rigging. Many years went by and I expanded my knowledge of reading waters on every stream that I could fish. I had learned to approach a hole by staying low or to one side and back in the trees to break my silhouette, and to cast to all the likely spots while working the lower ends and looking for underwater rocky ledges or other objects that would break the flow of water or offer a hiding spot for a hungry trout. I would continue to work all the way through the hole to the upper sections where the water would break over from the next pool.

The presentations of the flies had become refined and each cast was more on target to put the flies in the proper feeding area. The retrieve had become more of a work of art, so as to hold the rod up high and keep the fly line off of the water in close-in situations; or in longer casts to be sure to start mending the line to keep all of the slack out and watch the very end of the line for any abnormal action, such as slight jerks, twitching, or just stopping. It is very important to strike immediately when any of these things happen to a normal drift. Two or three things in the retrieve can make the difference in success or failure. In a long cast or short high-sticking retrieve, you must keep the fly line coming behind the fly in a normal drift with a slight bow or arc in the line as it goes down to the water. This type of retrieve will keep all slack out of the line and leader so that all strikes can be detected. This same procedure is followed on longer casts, but the fly line is in the water, and it is constantly being mended to keep all slack out. As the fly line and fly comes by you, raise the rod and continue to hold the line behind the fly until the current begins to tighten the line. It a good idea to extend your arms in a reach to lengthen the drift. As the fly line begins to tighten, the fly will begin to raise in the water column eventually bringing it to the top. This has been found to imitate a hatching insect, and many fish are taken as the fly reaches the very end of its drift and is just about to come to the surface. Another practice that is useful at times is to begin very light three to six inch retrieves with the left hand, which is known as strip jerking. Many times when trout will not touch a dead drifted nymph, the trout will strike savagely at a fly being strip-jerked.

I would like to go over the whole procedure again to highlight all of the steps, so that every person will be able to use these methods well when they get on the water:

#1. Try to tie one or two flies on that will match the nymphs that are known to be hatching at the time that you are fishing. Tie all of your knots with the Pitzen knot. Plain leader material in the 4X --6X range will work best. Tie in tandem rigs about twelve inches apart. The best procedure found up to date is to tie in the point fly with the Pitzen knot and then, tie in about 12-14 inches of leader material with a Pitzen knot tied in the air. This Pitzen knot tied in the air is placed around the hook bend of the point fly and tightened. The dropper fly is then tied on to the end of the leader material coming from the hook bend of the point fly. This makes all of the knots have 100% strength and less chance of slippage.

#2. Make your approaches in a stealthful way, keeping low or back into the trees or bushes to break your outline.

#3. Read the water carefully and identify all of the places that trout might be hiding.

#4. Work the water from the tail out all the way to the head of the hole, looking for rocks, logs, ledges or any breaks in the current, which might give the fish a place to hide and rest. Try to make two to three drifts through any given stretch of water.

#5. Be sure to keep the line mended and keep the fly line in a slight arc behind the fly, so that the slack is taken out, but also that the fly is drifting along naturally without being pulled.

#6. Always be prepared to strike if the fly line or leader stops, jerks, twitches, or makes any abnormal movement.

When fishing water that has become somewhat warm (mid 60's), it is best to use unweighted flies and fish riffles that are highly oxygenated. The fish may be holding in water that is only inches deep. Look for any break or slower movement that might be slightly deeper that would give a fish an area to hold in. The strikes may just be a stopping of the line or hard, fast takes. Be ready to strike instantly. If fishing in very cold temperatures, try to fish the deepest holes. You may have to drift the fly many times through the same spot. If the water levels are up slightly, some extra weight may be needed. Weighted putty works really well at this time. A normal take in these types of conditions is for nothing more than the fly line to stop.

My desire for you is that you will take these methods that have been tried and tested for many years, and have proven to be the most successful methods of fishing that I have found on the waters of East Tennessee. Try them and continue to practice them, so that you will eventually just be using them as a second nature to yourself. The methods will eventually land you some of the biggest fish in the creek. Good Fishing to all!


All Content is Copyright © of Hugh and Carolyn Hartsell

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The Curve Cast

I have talked about several different methods of approaching fish as well as ways to present flies that might bring about good results when faced with different conditions. I have also talked about fishing riffles, fishing high and discolored water, going to high altitudes when the water is up. There was also a post about "STEPPING ON TROUT" and a number of thoughts were given as to how to present a fly and "high stickin" was mentioned as well as walking above and presenting a cast back downstream where the cast is stopped somewhat short to put s-loops in the line which gives a longer drag free drift.

This topic is another one of those little bits of advise that may be new to some, and others may be familiar with it and use it on a frequent basis. I have used several different casts to see if I could better my results on the creek. The long cast has seemed to be the most productive overall. The curve cast has been one that I have been working on for the last few weeks. I will have to give all of the credit to Joan Wulff and her video "THE DYNAMICS OF FLY CASTING". If you have seen the video, then you may be familiar with her presentation of it. It seems to be a cast or presentation that can be used in several different situations.

Any type of obstacle such as a rock, a jutting piece of land, a log, or whatever may be preventing you from getting your fly around and under where a fish can be hiding , are all candidates for the curve cast. The most obvious thing that you might encounter on the stream would be a large rock that has water running deep underneath it, but you can't get a fly to the other side without hanging on the rock which would cause drag on your fly. This is a perfect place for a large brown trout to be hiding. Let's go after him!

We're wading up the creek on the left side, and there is a large rock out in the middle of the stream that looks like a big fish could be hiding under it. The current is running under and along side of it. How do we get a fly to the other side of the rock and make it to float along side or back underneath where the fish might be waiting? We do a side cast at an object that is beyond the rock but in the same alignment of where we want the fly to be directed.

The power stroke is directed straight toward the spot we are looking at; but the rod is corrected back to the right and slightly downward, and line is allowed to slide through the guides, but slight tension is still held. This correction of the rod will cause the direction of the fly to curve to the left and settle right in the area along beside or underneath the rock.

The same presentation can be done from the right side of the creek if the rod is switched over to your left side when casting, and your rod is corrected back to the left and slightly down. This may sound terribly confusing if you have not practiced this cast before.

Go out in you yard and practice this cast some before you get on the stream. Almost any stationary object can be used. After twenty to thirty minutes of practice, you will become confident enough to try it on the stream. Each time you go out and try it, you will become a little more proficient at doing it. I wish you luck with it and maybe a real nice brown trout.


All Content is Copyright © of Hugh and Carolyn Hartsell

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The Elusive Brown Trout

No other trout has the mystique or allure about it as the brown trout. I have been pursuing it since I was 16 years old. My earliest introduction to it began with my first trip to Paint Creek as a teenager, and there was where I caught my first brown trout. I had talked to a fellow who had been fishing with minnows all morning and had caught several nice rainbow and brook trout while fishing with these. He happened to throw a minnow down which he had fished with for so long that it had died. As soon as the conversation had ended and he had started up the creek; I grabbed the minnow, put it on my line and started down the creek. The first good hole that I came to just happened to have a rock ledge in it. I threw the minnow in and let it go down out of sight. As I began lightly jerking the minnow back toward the top, a beautiful trout about 12 inched long came up from the bottom and took the minnow hard. In about five minutes, I had my first brown trout. This first encounter should have told me a lot about the cannibalistic characteristics of the fish. Becoming more aware of these tendencies have led to taking many other larger fish.

One of the first things that an angler learns about the brown trout is that his life styles and eating habits are quite different from the rainbow and brookies. After he reaches the size of about 12-14 inches, he will change from a day time feeder to a hunter who likes low light conditions and begins to make large food objects a regular part of his diet. Minnows, large nymphs, and terrestrial insects are the things that he eats regularly. As he reaches the size of about 20 inches; small fish, crayfish, snakes and the biggest of water born insects make up his diet. Most of his feeding will take place at night time. He may be seen in clear water in large holes just lying almost dormant during the day. He will usually seek out deep secluded ledges or rocks that are undercut to make his permanent home. One of the strange eating habits that brown trout seem to have developed is to find a spot at the rear part of their living domain. It is usually very shallow and not noticeable to smaller minnows or other fish that might enter into his living area during the day. He will allow the minnows to move into his hole. During the night he will move toward them slowly herding them into shallow water where he can attack them. While he has them forced up into shallow water against the bank, they become easy prey and his primary means of feeding.

The first condition to try to look for to catch large browns out feeding, is to be on the stream when it is a dreary, drizzly day. The type of low light conditions will prompt browns to come out and start feeding. Late afternoons are especially good as dusk approaches. Another condition that is very good is just after a thundershower when the creek has risen slightly and the water color has become discolored and dingy. This is the time to cast large buggers, nymphs, or streamers.  Most of the time these flies should be dark. When strip jerking these types of flies, it should be in larger holes where there is a pretty good idea that large browns might live. The more discolored the water, the slower the fly should be jerked.

Try to incorporate these techniques into your normal fishing practices, and you will increase your odds many fold against this worthy adversary. Here's wishing you the best on the stream.


All Content is Copyright © of Hugh and Carolyn Hartsell

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The Jewel of the Smokies

A lot of time has passed since I first heard of the beautiful little trout of the Appalachians and the Great Smoky Mountains that is known as the Brook Trout or Brookie. When I was just a young boy, he was never called by this formal name but was affectionally known by the locals as the Speckled Trout or Spec. Even though he was mentioned quite often, he was not so often seen but was always referred to as a delicacy.
It was rare to ever see or hear of one that was more than six or seven inches in length. Even at the time of my childhood, it was well known that to ever see or catch a Brookie would require a lot of walking into the rough back country. When they were mentioned, it was always with a sense of reverence and with a glow in the person's eye who was doing the talking.

It was late into my teens before I even saw a Brookie in the wild. Enough time had passed so that some of the streams in the Smoky Mountains had begun to make a recovery and a few of the fish were washing down into the lower edges of the Park waters. I had caught several of the stocked versions that were used as substitutes in lower elevation streams by the T.W.R.A. for many years. There was no comparison, however, to the first wild Brook trout that I first saw. They were truly jewels. The colors that I saw on the truly wild fish were so vivid that they stood out like sapphires. The Brookies are all gorgeous fish. Because they were so delicate and so small most of the time, I rarely fished for them as the years progressed. Then, many years later, there was a revival in the hearts and minds of the true fly fishermen who are now on the scene. The love and renewed interest that has sprung anew for this little beauty had hopefully breathed new life into the world of the little natives of the Smoky Mountains. All through the fishing circles, you see efforts to try to help this little champion win back its original territory that has dwindled down to the very headwaters of most streams. Let's hope that the attempts are successful and our beautiful little jewels can once again regain a lot of its original territory. Let's give it the true honor that it richly deserves and maybe the generation that follows will see the Brook Trout back in its original domain.


All Content is Copyright © of Hugh and Carolyn Hartsell

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The Smoky Mountain Blackbird Softhackle


In the course of flyfishing for 52 years, I have seen several good flies that have known their share of popularity. A few have had great success and have endured the times. A small handful of flies have made names that will endure for generations in many areas of the country. The Yallarhammer is one, and the Thunderhead is another. Maybe the most famous and most loved of them all from the East to the West is the Elk Hair Caddis.
I first heard of the Smoky Mountain Blackbird many years ago, and it had made a name for itself already. The Original Smoky Mountain Blackbird.jpg (111274 bytes)
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It had the same popularity of many other East Tennessee flies and not until about three years ago, did anything change about it's looks. The Softhackle flies were beginning to make an appearance in all parts of the country, and it was from this type of pattern that I decided to redesign this old fly. I first began working on this new fly, shortly after Carolyn and I married. After a few attempts at trying different hackle and various amounts of weight, I settled on a recipe that I am still using today. The basic ingredients are Black Hares Mask dubbing and hackle taken from the wings and tail of the Starling. This fly has proven time and time again to be the hottest fly that I have ever tied or fished. I have used it in the Smoky Mountains as well as in all of the tailwaters in East Tennessee. I have given the fly or sold it to others, who have reported having the same success with it wherever they might have fished. I fully believe that it will become one of the most popular and beloved flies to ever be developed in the Southeast. I have tied hundreds of different patterns in my life, but of all that I have ever fished, the Smoky Mountain Blackbird Softhackle has proven to be the best pattern that I have ever known.
We now list this exclusive fly for sale on our website at the special price of $2.00 per fly. Be one of
many people to enjoy the benefits of this immensely successful fly that we are so proud of and developed and tested in the Smoky Mountains.


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All Content is Copyright © of Hugh and Carolyn Hartsell