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jgraham140 10-29-17 09:52 PM

Great Smoky Mountains
I had time to get away and fish the Great Smoky Mountains for five days in October (two weekends ago). It was the first really extensive camping trip for me since my wife passed away in August. She had been my constant fishing companion and when she didn’t feel like fishing, she photographed the fish I caught, as well as the flowers and animals that passed her way. When she got sick in December of last year, she insisted on getting me a waterproof camera to document my catches when she was unable to do so. I ended up getting a Panasonic Lumix TS30, which some of you had recommended previously. It has worked out well.

Before the trip, I tied up a bunch of flies to imitate the big October Caddis (Pycnopsyche sp.) that is abundant this time of year. These included an X Caddis pattern in #10 to imitate the 20 mm long adult fly and Shakey Bealy and Orange and Partridge soft hackles, also in #10, to imitate the pupae. According to the late Nick Nicklas, the Shakey Bealy is an imitation of the much larger western October Caddis, Dicosmoecus. I fished the wet flies as droppers and caught fish on both the dries and the droppers.

A former student, who we’ll call Fiddlin’ Fundulus Whisperer (FFW), now a fisheries biologist, accompanied me for most of the trip. I set up camp on Thursday the 12th by myself and he joined me the next day in the Deep Creek Campground. Temperatures in the middle of the day for the beginning of the trip were in the mid-80s. Water temperatures started each day at about 60 F and peaked at 65 F.

On Thursday evening I fished alone near the bridge at the parking lot. The previous year I had caught a nice 13 inch brown just above the bridge. I was skunked that night, but then I didn’t fished very long.

When FFW arrived, we hiked a couple of miles up Deep Creek to get well past most of the fishermen, hikers, and tubers. Fishing was slow at first, with a few small trout and warpaint shiners. Around noon, I took a break and scattered some of my wife’s ashes on the stream she loved. At that moment I saw a fish rise and tried to catch it with no success. I couldn’t see what the fish were rising to so I tried a #18-20 midge, which did the trick. We both caught some nice fish on small flies.

After a short lunch break, some hikers came by and looking into the pool we had just fished, and where I had distributed a few of my wife’s ashes, they said “Oh, that’s a nice fish.” We both looked at what they were referring to and gasped! It was a 25 inch (at least) brown trout sitting out in full sight in the middle of the pool. Needless to say we didn’t catch it and perhaps we didn’t want to catch it. We looked at the fish, looked at each other, and said “That is a sign.” In any case, we figured the fish had come up Deep Creek from the Tuckaseegee River and that it was a brood fish. It really was a huge specimen and its pelvic fins appeared to be worn. And it was a fat fish; too fat to have grown up in Deep Creek. It was huge even by Raven Fork standards. Once it knew we were onto it, it melted away into the pool. FFW caught a much smaller, but still beautiful brown, in the same place the apparition of the monster brown trout had been moments before.

Later, in the campground, we finally caught some fish on the big October Caddis patterns. Those big flies only worked for us at dusk. In the day, the trout wanted much smaller flies in the #16-18 range. There were dun caddis and blue winged olives emerging through the afternoons.

Over a campfire, FFW played his fiddle while I accompanied him with guitar and banjo. I learned a new tune, Elk River Blues. As the fire died down, dozens of October Caddis gathered around my electric lantern.

The next day (Saturday) was like a repeat of Friday. It was warm and humid and fishing didn’t pick up until the water temperature had increased to 64 F, and until I had built a small cairn in my wife’s memory. We caught mostly browns in the 7-12 inch range.

On Sunday we fished Indian Creek near Mark Cathey’s old homestead. We planned to keep a few fish for dinner but only ended up catching two sardine-size rainbow trout, which got released because they were smaller than the 7 inch limit. We got soaked in a downpour and spent a couple of hours climbing over logs and rhododendron. It was good exercise. My partner headed home after we got back to camp and I stayed on for two more days. Later, near our campsite I caught a few more browns at dusk on the big caddis imitations.

It rained all Sunday night as a cold front came through. My new tent held up well. No leaks. After breakfast at the Everett Street Diner, coffee at Mountain Perks, and a trip to the Fly Fishing Museum, I decided on Monday to try the Nantahala Delayed Harvest. It was windy and getting colder and the fishing was poor. The water was high and off color from all of the rain. I tried every fly I could think of and briefly hooked a few fish on dries. I built another cairn and instead of catching fish, had a close encounter with a hellbender. Was it another sign? I ended the day with dinner at Nantahala Outdoor Center. And there was a Bald Eagle circling around the bridge at NOC. Another sign?

The next day I woke to frost and 34-35 F temperatures. I decided to head straight home and forego the delayed harvest.

When WWF left on Sunday afternoon, he stopped by a well-known tributary of the Oconaluftee, where he caught a couple of small brookies.

Fishing was generally good once the water warmed up each day. The best time was 1:30-3:00 pm and the fish mostly wanted small flies (#18-20). There were midges, blue wing olives, and small dun caddis emerging during the day. Water temperature varied between 60 and 65 degrees F. The big October Caddis (#10) dries and pupae I tied really only worked at dusk and I caught a few fish each day on these flies.

Photos to come, once I remember how to upload them.


jgraham140 10-29-17 11:02 PM

Deep Creek, two miles above the campground

Brown trout taken on a #18 midge

Warpaint Shiner

FFW’s brilliantly colored brown trout

Typical rainbow trout, on an Orange and Partridge soft hackle

jgraham140 10-29-17 11:09 PM

Second Day

FFW fishing Indian Creek

Brook Trout

jgraham140 10-29-17 11:12 PM

Pycnopsyche (center) and imitations: X Caddis, Shakey Bailly, Pycnopsyche Pupae

jgraham140 10-29-17 11:28 PM

Guitar and Banjo at Deep Creek Campground

Nantahala River Delayed Harvest

Nantahala Hellbender

ChaChung 10-30-17 08:26 AM

Hey John,

So sorry to hear about your wife.

Great write-up and pictures. Beautiful flies you tied up there.

Like we talked about before, we were camping and fishing in the same park but different area that weekend. It sure was beautiful up there. I can't wait until my next trip...

splatek16 10-30-17 08:33 AM

GReat post; GReat fish; Great flies.

I love the guitar and banjo... I guess i will eventually need to get up to the park and fish...

jgraham140 10-30-17 11:02 AM


Originally Posted by ChaChung (Post 886688)
Hey John,

So sorry to hear about your wife.

Great write-up and pictures. Beautiful flies you tied up there.

Like we talked about before, we were camping and fishing in the same park but different area that weekend. It sure was beautiful up there. I can't wait until my next trip...


I also like the Smokemont Campground. The Bradley Fork is one of my favorite streams in the Smoky Mountains. I have always done very well there. Bryson City, however, is closer for me and the campground at Deep Creek is not on a reservation basis. There are usually plenty of open sites during the week.


jgraham140 10-30-17 11:08 AM


Originally Posted by splatek16 (Post 886689)
GReat post; GReat fish; Great flies.

I love the guitar and banjo... I guess i will eventually need to get up to the park and fish...

We had a fiddle too, but I didn't think to get a photo of all the instruments until after FFW had left. The banjo and fiddle probably account for the empty campground. :rolleyes:

April and May are the best times to fish the park for dry fly action. Classic Quill Gordons, Hendricksons, Yellow Stones, and even Green Drakes in some streams. Cataloochee Creek has the Green Drakes in late May-early June. But October is always excellent too.


3-wt 10-30-17 12:43 PM

Awesome post and report, John. I love those brown trout pix. Mark

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