The Wilbur Dam

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The Wilbur Dam controls the flow of the Watauga River in Tennessee, and also happens to be an awesome spot to catch a few trout… unfortunately, it is also very well known and tends to get crowded on nice days. Nevertheless, it’s a great place to fish. It’s always important to keep a check on the generation schedule while you’re wading, the water rises fast!

The rocks here are extremely slippery because of algae growth, so be careful while wading. There are also unexpected deep spots, so always watch where you’re going. Right below the dam, there is a small rapid that forms because of the current flowing from the dam. The tailwater of the rapid is one of the best places to catch a trout. Placing your flies on the seams of the rapid always do the trick! There are also really strange eddy lines throughout sections of this area that are sometimes hard to maneuver your flies around.

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Honestly, there isn’t a whole lot of wading room right below the dam. If you go too far down, it gets too deep for the possibility of wading. There is also a large pool to the right of the dam where a boat ramp is that has fish in it sometimes, but they’re hard to catch since the water is stagnant there. If you want to try anything, try setting a dry fly right on top of one, but don’t let the line hit the water.

You can find the dam at Wilbur Dam Rd in Elizabethton, Tennessee. There are dozens of signs that point you all the way to it, and once you park it’s a whole 10 second walk to the edge of the water!

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Bottom Bouncin’ Down the South Holston

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If you haven’t drifted the South Holston, you need to add it to your fishing bucket list. Floating down this river makes for a perfect day, rain or shine.

The first time I floated this river I was kinda clueless to be honest with you. I had mostly just used a dry fly and dropper rig for my other trout adventures, but one of my guide-friends taught me how to do a bottom bounce nymph rig, and I was amazed at the amount of great trout we caught. Of all the people on the river, we probably caught more than everyone combined.

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On the bottom bounce rig, we used a split case, egg fly, and a copper john (I think the last one was a copper john anyway.) And how we created it was with a 9′ tapered leader, added 18″ of tippet to the first fly, 12″ to the next fly, 8″ to the last fly, and another 6″ later we added several weights. Instead of tying them in a straight line onto the tippet, you use blood knots/double surgeon knots to tie the tippet together, leaving one strand behind and tying the flies onto one of the tails.

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I’m always more of a fan of using dries, but dang were we reelin’ big boys in. Generally the bigger browns sit on the bottom of the river and wait for nymphs to come instead of using energy to snatch anything from the top, and the bottom bounce gets your flies right to them and mimics the drifts almost exactly.

Using this rig can be extremely funky to get accustomed to! Pretty much everything you know about slingin dries goes out the window. There’s so much weight on the line that you have to chuck it back and forth a few times and rip on the line to get it to go! Mending the line is extremely crucial to the success of the bottom bounce! You’ll get used to it… then you’ll catch a lot of fish! 🙂

Tight lines!

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Using Nature as my Guide

Doing anything in the outdoor world is a little different when you’re a woman. You’re constantly asked if you need help, constantly asked if you know what you’re doing and constantly getting stared at by people everywhere. You catch a few fish and people gawk at you.

But what people don’t understand is what women can provide to the outdoors and teach to others. We have a gentle nature and touch. We finesse through the rivers with fly rods in our hands. We don’t force things to happen, we wait patiently for them to come. We watch our surroundings and analyze absolutely everything. Instead of barreling into the river, we stand on the sidelines first to watch nature take its course, and to then decide where we fit into it. We learn from nature and act accordingly. We listen.

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Listening and analyzing my surroundings has become one of my best teachers. I watch everything: the trees blowing in the wind, the bugs floating through the air and crawling on my skin, the way the water bends around rocks and every crevice of the riverbed. I can feel the water as it rushes past my body and the heat of the sun on my cheeks.

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Ever since I have utilized nature as my guide, I have been much better at fly fishing. I sit and wait. I watch and listen. I encompass my mind with my surroundings, rather than merely having a goal of catching fish. Everything around me slows down, and the moments I spend on the river are times for reflection.

Whenever I catch a lot of fish while the people around me don’t, they will come and ask me what the trick is. No, I’m not lacing my flies with pimento cheese. No, I’m not doing anything fancy. I just decided to take some time and watch the bugs fly around! Take a seat and enjoy.

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The Watauga River: Siam Bridge

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The middle section of the Watauga River at Siam Bridge is a great place to catch a mixture of rainbow and brown trout! This is actually one of the easier places to catch brown trout on the Watauga in my opinion. Parts of this section are a little on the deep side, so you generally have to stay closer to the bank if you’re wading. This section is road-side, which also means that during peak hours of the day there are sometimes a plethora of people out there fishing as well (which, for most of us, isn’t optimal conditions.) Now if you want to go night fishing, this is the spot to go!

For this spot I would DEFINITELY take sunscreen if you’re going to be out there during a summer day since where you’ll be wading at there is zero shade. The water here is very cold since it’s closer to the Wilbur dam, and it also gets chilly as the day fades to night, so bring a jacket and warmer gear if you think you’ll be out there closer to dark! Before you step down the weed-encompassed cliff, make sure your boots are strapped on tight or else you might lose a shoe to the mud pit when you get close to the bank!

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Here’s a picture taken from the road. Here you can see Siam bridge, the overgrowth and the river!

One of my favorite ways to fish in this area is using a wooly bugger! It’s an optimal spot for casting your line wayyy across the river and dragging it back towards you. Usually I’ll cast my line, let the wooly bugger sink some, and then start slowly dragging the line back towards me. I’ve caught 5+ fish doing this in a 15 minute time period! You can also use a stimulator/elk hair caddis/parachute sulphur and nymph rig for this area during the summer (BWO and copper johns are my winter choices) and it’ll certainly do the trick as well. I really like using the prince nymph for my wet fly since it really grabs their attention with their intense swim pattern. Be careful not to get your flies stuck on the weeds behind you on the bank! It sure is a pain to get yourself untangled from them. Also watch for snakes… sometimes they don’t cut the grass for months and you can’t see!

You really have to be sneaky while you’re fishing here. The trout can literally see your fly line and tippet if you’re not careful. I’m not the biggest fan of using 7x tippet, but this is one section that I think it’s absolutely necessary. The water is very clear and doesn’t run fast here, so having good technique and using the right tippet is the only way you’ll catch anything. Make sure that the only thing the fish can see is your fly hitting the water. If any part of your line hits hard, it’ll spook them.

You can get here by typing in 222 Steel Bridge Rd into your GPS! Previously, there was a steel bridge in this exact area, but it was demolished after they built a new one. You can still see the support beams in the water!

Tight lines!

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Winged Deer Park, Boone Lake, Bluegill edition

Up to this point I haven’t exactly been the biggest fan of fishing on this lake. Every time I’d try to fish there I’d end up getting SKUNKED. Big time. I’ve tried everything there! Spin fishing with lures, poppers, earthworms, fake worms, fish eggs, etc… no luck. Ever. When I was asked to go and try fly fishing here I was a little skeptical because of my past failed attempts. I’m not a huge fan of slingin’ some poppers, but I tried anyways… with no luck. While fly fishing I tried poppers, wiggle minnows, black wooly buggers and wooly caterpillars in the slight possibility of catching any kind of species of fish… but STILL NO LUCK. Then I faintly remembered an article that I was reading about using olive colored nymph-type flies for bluegill. So I tried that, and caught three bluegill! YES! FINALLY! They weren’t exactly killing themselves over this fly, but hey, it worked!!

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And voila! My first bluegill caught on an olive wooly bugger!

I tried using the same nymph for a little while longer but the success rate began to plummet. I was no longer catching fish with it. I started to experiment with other types of flies, and then I hit the jackpot when I changed my fly out to a stimulator with rubber legs, ha! I began catching a fish on every cast almost! It definitely helped being in the middle of summer and swarms of bugs hatching… even though I was mobbed by mosquitos and ended up having 20 bug bites all over my legs and who knows how many gnats in my eyes. One of the most amusing aspects of catching probably two dozen of these was seeing other fishermen watch me catch them all in amazement. These fish are so much fun to catch because of how good the fight is. Even though they aren’t large, the shape of their bodies allows them to turn and make it harder for you to reel them in. You have to be careful while handling these fish because their fins are incredibly sharp and their mouths are so small you can hardly hold them by the lip. Here’s some pictures of a few of the fish I caught that day!

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All in all, if you want to go catch dozens of fish just for the heck of it, going after bluegill is definitely the ticket! I honestly know very little about fish other than trout, but I’m always learning! These were certainly fun to catch!

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Stoney Creek, Elizabethton, TN

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This brown swallowed the entirety of my beetle!

One of my favorite little creeks to go to while the Watauga and South Holston rivers are generating is Stoney Creek. I generally don’t see many people out here, which makes it even better! This small stream is connected to the Watauga and does not get fished as often, so catching trout can be somewhat easier at times.

When getting here, there is a small volunteer fire station that I usually park at on the corner of Blue Springs Rd and Willow Springs Rd in Elizabethton. After parking, there is a very short walk right to the river. Across the street from the fire station is a residential cabin-type house, and right beside of that is a great section to fish. There are generally dozens of fish in that particular pool, but you can walk up and down the stream for a long time and catch fish. Just remember to be courteous to whoever lives on the river!

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This is the volunteer fire station with the creek to the left! If you go downstream, there is a nice little pool, but you can go all up and down this stretch!

During the summer I had the absolute time of my life slingin’ hoppers and beetles here. There is a huge amount of tree coverage over the river, so it is perfect for beetles. Using one is very different from using a regular fly though. Instead of letting it down gently, it is better to smack it on top of the water to imitate it falling out of a tree, and let it dead drift. I’ve literally never seen trout slam a fly like when I saw them go after my beetles. I generally try to use the ones with rubber legs and small beads on the undersides of them (they tend to make a louder noise that imitates the beetle a little closer.) I also use sulphurs, which always seems to do the trick as well! During the winter, blue winged olives, zebra midges, copper johns or anything of the like would certainly work. If anything, watch your surroundings a little bit and see what’s flying around! I’ve seen some parachute patterns buzzing about and occasionally a sulphur or two during the winter!

I’ve seen a nice mix of rainbows and browns, and the water is usually clear enough that you can see how big they are, and let me tell ya, for a creek this size I’ve seen some very decent sized fish!

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12″ rainbow caught on a sulphur during the summer! A cotton shirt probably wasn’t the best idea seeing how hot it was…

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Gear Talk

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Some of my first gear… waders and boots from the 90’s, and a rod and reel I borrowed! Been a fan of the Simms vest since day 1!

So, when you first start fly fishing everything can be super confusing. What type of rod/reel do you get? Waders and boots? Flies?! A lot of things can be hard to figure out at first. And don’t even start with the fly fishing jargon that some of us still don’t understand half of the time!

When I first started I was utterly confused by the giant list of materials… Let me just have a little breakdown list of what I take on the water with me at the very minimum!

  • Waders/boots (Redington)
  • Fly rod (Scott S4 9′ 5 weight)
  • Fly reel (Lamson Liquid 2)
  • Dry fly floatant (Lochsa or Frog’s Fanny)
  • Tippet spool equipped with 4x-7x (generally Rio Fluoroflex)
  • Extra leader (Rio Fluoroflex tapered to 6x)
  • Vest (Simms)
  • Wool socks for cold weather
  • Box of assorted flies (Box by Umpqua)
  • Forceps
  • Nippers (Simms)
  • Picture-taking device
  • Net

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Here was a slight update with my wader purchase from Redington! I’ve favored their women’s waders over any other brand! The hat is from Rep Your Water, and they have a great collection of lids that feature many different locations! 

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Here you can see my Scott S4 fly rod… absolutely in love with it! This rod has really helped me take my technique to a whole new level!

Now let me tell ya, don’t be afraid to go to your local fly shop and ask questions. Generally the people working in them know the area really well and don’t mind giving you a few words of advice! You’ll start to pick up on things eventually, there’s no such thing as a dumb question! Ask for beginner spots and they’ll generally be happy to help. They’ll even help pick you out flies that are working well for the time period and river conditions.

When I first started, I was rocking a pair of waders from the 90’s, men’s boots that were way too big for my feet and an old, cheap rod and reel set from Cabela’s. Before you decide fly fishing is something your passionate about, you don’t have to lay down big money for gear! If you enjoy it, you’ll end up spending some big bucks over time, trust me! Remember, there’s always something new for you to learn, either if you’ve been fishing for 2 weeks or 20 years!

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