Tag Archives: Black Flies

A few winter fishing tips

The weather here in East Tennessee has been less than accommodating for those of us who prefer to stand mid stream and ply our craft.  With temperatures that can be bone jarring cold and generation schedules on the tailwaters that offer very limited windows of opportunity, most times we are left holding a warm cup of coffee and staring out the window.

A lot of folks forgo fishing in the winter months, but it has been my experience, that if you are willing to be patient and use a few tricks, you can still have a productive day on the water. 

Here are a few…

If the generation schedule on your local tailwater will allow it, try fishing mid day.  Giving the sun an opportunity to do its thing and warm the water even a few degrees can make a huge difference in success or failure.

Along with this, it is important to realize that fish are more reluctant to move a lot in pursuit of food so an understanding of basic river hydrology in respect to prime fish locations is vital.  Areas that are stacked with trout in the spring, summer, and fall might not be as active in colder months.

Know what they are eating on a consistant basis.  For the most part, trout here on Tennessee tailwaters have a diet of midges that is year round.  This food source becomes even more important as the mayfly activity dies down.  You might find a Blue Wing Olive hatch, but if you want to step in the river with a tried and true producer in the winter, you cannot beat a midge.  Having midges tied in the smaller sizes (24-20), and various colors, will no doubt have you ready.

I also feel that it is important to cover as much of the water column as possible so I will tie a tandem rig with a bead head zebra midge tailed with an unweighted midge with some flash for a wing casing.  I can’t honestly say if the flash is the ticket, but every little bit helps.

Personal safety is always important on the water, but in winter it can be a matter of life or death.  The obvious plan is to lair up before putting on waders, but keep in mind that your layers also impede your mobility which means that moves you can make with ease in September may be risky when you cannot bend or move as easily.  I learned this lesson the hard way.  Trust me, layers can get you in trouble.

Another thing that ties in with that is the use of fleece.  If you have a well fitting fleece pullover, get it wet and see what happens.  It will magically grow three sizes, become heavy, and hold every ounce of water it comes in contact with.  When practical, use wool.  It stays warm when wet and doesn’t expand like fleece.

One day several years ago, I took a full plunge in the Hiwassee the day after Christmas.  Thirty degrees is cold, but when you are soaked to the bone, wearing fleece, and a mile from your vehicle, it is a level of misery best avoided.

Carry extra clothes, some of those hand/ foot warmers, move carefully, fish midges, and have fun.  Even when its cold, fish gotta eat.


South Holston

The South Holston Tailwater near Bristol, Tennessee fished very well today while wading. There were size 20 BWO’s, size 30 grey Midges, size 26 Black Flies coming off as long as the sun was out. We had a brief cloudy spell just after lunch and the fish and bugs turned off, then around 2:00pm the sun came back out and the action was hot.
There were more of those beautiful South Holston browns caught than rainbows, probably a 66 2/3 to 33 1/3 ratio.
There was still some snow on the ground and ice around the edges of the river when we got there.
A couple of the flies used today

Thanks for reading
Randy Ratliff
Troutfishers Guide Service


One Confused Guy on the Water! SOHO 03-10-2008

Actually it was two confused guys on the water! We, my brother in law (Adam) and I ascended back up to the South Holston in search of putting him on a decent fish. See, Adam and I started fly fishing together about 6 years ago. I, was the fortunate one of the two who stuck with the sport and made it my obsession. Adam has, however, managed to keep his casting skills up somewhat casting to an occasional striper or bluegill every now and again.

Adam has been reading, I should say looking at pictures, of my blog and decided it was time for him to get back into the game. Life has gotten a little easier and a little more relaxed for him allowing him time to get back to old times! He called me about two weeks ago to let me know he wanted to ride along on my next trip! “Stand by!” I believe were my choice of words. “I have the place for you!” However now, while writing this report, I feel terrible! I talked a ton of hype and didn’t wind up with much to show for it!

We left early and headed up towards Bristol arriving on the water at around 9. We put in at one of my favorite spots for wading on the South Holston. I had tied up some pretty new BWO’s for the trip. I rigged my fly rod and then rigged his using one of my favorite set ups, the deadly dry dropper. I spent a great portion of the morning cussing him for making casts and watching the water, not his fly. It actually got kinda funny, I kept asking him “Where’s you fly?” with him replying “I don’t know!” I found my self saying “If you can’t see your fly, you can’t use this technique!” I said cussing, maybe not, but he eventually caught my drift! No pun intended!

They are suppossed to float in the film..That didn’t work…A little more tweaking and these things will be awesome! Hey, they already catch fish!

Adam’s first catch of the day, average for the day! Oh, well there will plenty more where that came from!

After about 30 minutes we had him on his first South Holston brown trout. Instant smiles on his face realizing he had properly fished that technique and now understood why I was getting aggravated with his can’t see the fly technique. After realizing he had it, I set out to find one of my own! It didn’t take long on my new pattern, I hooked up on a decent brown! Snapping some pictures along the way. I really spent the day enjoying the bad weather, overcast and wind.
Here’s a shot of that BWO I tied up working it’s magic. Have confidence in your flies, I learned that quickly!

Here’s another shot of that fish!

We wound up on our last spot of the day, a spot that holds several big fish, I’m talking over 28” and one that would go well over 36″!!! Silly me I spent the whole day casting to a monster brown that just wouldn’t eat what I had! I didn’t have a streamer box, shame on me! Adam casted a black bugger in the pool and lost it in about 30 seconds! “Poor knot?!” I believe is what I said to Adam, while Adam sat looking at his rod I believe saying “Damn, damn, damn!” Now laughing I knew it was time to head back. We casted all the way to the take out and didn’t hook set a single fish! Oh well, now I look like an idiot. Won’t make the first time! I promised him a nice spring day catching fish till his arm hurt and wanting to give the fish a break. He smiled and said “That’ll do!”
See if you can spot the monster in this picture…Oh, and I made it easy on ya, I tweaked the hell out of this picture to give you a clear veiw of the bottom!

We picked up about 15 fish total for the day. A tough day on the South Holston. A day that consisted of constantly changing flies. Conditions were terrible and I truly believe the fish are still in that transitional stage. They are trying to re locate on the stream, and the hatches just aren’t set for spring yet! I did manage pumping one fishes stomach that was completely loaded with midges ranging from 18 up to about a 26…Yes, they come that small and I’m convinced the fish certainly do seek them out to eat! So if your headed anywhere in the near future I’d look for alternative means of fishing. Float the Watauga, wade the Caney, Miller’s Island at the Clinch, or simply just find yourself deep in the Smoky Mountains National Forest on some back county stream! I believe I’d hit the Smokies for some quill action! Just my two cents!