Blue-winged Olives are fairly
common in the park but not in large
quantities typical for some of the
many different species of them.
Little Yellow Stoneflies, called
"Yellow Sallys" by most anglers
are very common in most of the
Aquatic Insect Hatches:
|Fly Fishing the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Caddisflies of many species exit in
the park. Most of them are
scrapers, predators, and shedders
rather than net-spinning
American March Browns are
another important species of
mayflies that are present in all
the streams in the smokies.
Slate Drake Spinners or Isony
Bicolor spinners are one of the
most important mayflies in the
park. The duns are not important
You will find that the Smokies has a huge
diversity of aquatic insects. This large variety of
insects has caused many anglers to shy away
from trying to determine what insects the trout
may be feeding on at any given time and place.
Other Aquatic Insects:
Most anglers are of the opinion that hatches are
not important or not nearly as important as they
are on other trout streams. This same line of
thinking is largely responsible for those same
anglers labeling fishing conditions as excellent,
good, average and bad. When they fail to catch
trout using their standby methods and fly
patterns, they sometimes falsely assume that
fishing is bad.
In general, determining what food the trout are
taking is just as important in the park as it is in
any headwater mountain freestone stream
anywhere in the nation.
Most anglers have read about blizzard hatches
at other famous destinations throughout the
West, on the Delaware River in New York and
on Pennsylvania's spring creeks for example.
They haven't seen such hatches in park. They
are, for the most part, not aware that hatches on
small, headwater mountain streams found
anywhere in the nation are no larger or more
prolific than they are in the park's streams. In
fact, hatches in the park are often more prolific
and more common than they are elsewhere, if
you compare them to other headwater,
mountain freestone streams.
One reason for the lack of consideration for
hatches in the park is the fact that attractor
patterns normally work very fairly well. This is
not a product of the park itself rather the type of
water found in the park. The great majority is
pocket water. Without going into detail let us just
say that in many situations the trout simply do
not have time to closely examine the fly.
Slow Moving Water:
When they do, they can be just as picky as trout
found anywhere. Many anglers fail to catch trout
when they are in the smoother flowing, clear
water or slow to moderate smooth flowing
shallow, low water conditions. They usually just
ignore the pools altogether and for good
reasons. The attractor flies perform very poorly
where they can closely be observed by the trout..
Normally some trout, especially the rainbows,
can be found to some extent in the fast moving,
pocket water. One reason for this is that most of
the year the water temperatures in the park is
on the warm side of that preferred by trout.
Since warm water holds less dissolved oxygen
the trout have to seek the oxygenated water to
survive. During this time they tend to stay in the
faster water such as plunges, runs and pockets.
Standby flies such as the Adams, a pattern that
to some extent imitates any mayfly and maybe
even some caddisflies, often work well.
However, the same fly will usually work just as
well in any headwater freestone stream in the
nation that consist primarily of pocket water.
There is another reason for the sparse hatches
of most aquatic insects that has to do with the
acidity of the streams in the park. Most of the
streams are on the acidic side of the PH scale.
In this type of water, the insects have little to
feed on and must rely on decaying plants that
have fallen into the water and other smaller
insects to survive. Insects that feed on algae
exist in the park but not in large quantities.
Acidic water doesn't contain much plankton or
algae. Only a few species of aquatic insects
exist in large enough quantities to cause the
trout to feed selectively in the park.
This means that most often the trout are feeding
opportunistically. In other words they eat a
variety of food and sometimes just about
anything they can find. Here again, trout found in
most of the headwater streams of the Western
States also feed opportunistically much of the
Trout can and do occasionally feed selectively in
the park. For the most part, however, there are
not that many of any one species of insect
available for the trout. When trout select only
one species of insect, or other food for that
matter, and feed on it exclusively, there is alway
an abundant amount of the food available. They
do this because they can feed more efficiently.
They feed heavily on the most prevalent food
and ignore the others. They no longer have to
resort to looking for food. They can stay in one
place and eat all they want. They can maximize
their food intake while minimizing their energy
expenditure. This is not a choice the fish
makes. It is a trained response.
Generic imitations, sometimes called
impressionistic imitations, work often when
specific imitations do not. If an angler is using a
specific imitation of something the trout are not
feeding on, then they may be better off with a
generic imitation that represents a variety of
On the other hand, often when the trout are
feeding exclusively on insects of a certain
species in the park, anglers fail to catch trout
consistently because they do not use a specific
imitation. This occurs far more often when the
trout are feeding on nymphs, larvae or pupae
stages than it does when they are feeding on
insects on the surface of the water. Underwater
selectivity is the least understood topic in fly
fishing for trout. The reason is very simple. You
can't see what the trout are eating under water
very well and usually, not at all. During these
times most anglers are satisfied to believe that
fishing is poor. They fall back on the stereotyped
labels for fishing conditions.
Marine or fish biologist (behavioral scientist)
tend to believe that fish feed only
opportunistically. If trout were not somewhat
selective, they would starve. They can tell the
difference most of the time in tiny leaves, twigs
and other stuff that look somewhat, at least from
an impressionistic standpoint, like little insects.
They eat a few things by mistake but not much
or they would starve. They can dang well rise
beneath your fly on their way to eat it and
suddenly turn away from it, rejecting it. When
that happens they are being selective about
what they eat. Selectivity is not something that is
either in effect or not in effect. It is a matter of the
degree it exist at the particular time and at the
particular place. Don't misunderstand me
please. It is just a matter of definition - selectivity
and the angler sees it or selectivity as the
scientist see it.
Examples of Selective Feeding:
One example of this that is common in the park
is when trout are feeding on midge pupae. This
happens very often and not just during the
winter months, it happen throughout the year.
When a large number of the pupae congregate
near the bottom and start swimming to the
surface to hatch, the trout can feed continuously
by staying very near the bottom in one small
area moving very little. During this time, anglers
may see the tiny newly hatched adults flying just
over the water in the calm areas of the water
near the banks, in eddies, and pockets provided
the light is such that they are visible. The trout
do not go to the trouble to feed on the adults.
Keep in mind that this is not something that
occurs throughout the park or even continuously
on one stream. It happens in specific areas of a
stream. Toss a big stonefly nymph in the
stream (for example) and they will pay it no
Another is the small paraleptophlebia nymphs
that are very common in the park. This occurs
not only in the early spring when anglers are
aware of the Blue Quill hatch but also for two or
three months in the late summer and early fall
when other species of this genus emerge. By
the way, this is also a normal time for many
anglers claim the fishing is poor. It certainly can
be poor if they only fish an attractor fly pattern in
the fast runs. When trout are feeding on the little
crawler nymphs that are emerging in shallow,
slow moving water along the edges of the
pocket water, the large attractor flies don't get
Little Yellow Stoneflies:
Yet another, and a very important one, is the
Little Yellow Stoneflies. Trout can and often do
become selective on these small stonefly
nymphs when they are crawling to the banks
along the stream bed to hatch. That is probably
one reason some of the generic nymph
patterns, like the prince nymph, work very well.
Trout can also become selective on the egg
laying stage of this hatch. The female Little
Yellow Stoneflies (Perlodidae species) can be
very abundant when they begin depositing their
eggs on the water just prior to dark. Again, this
is probably one reason the yellow dry fly generic
patterns often used by anglers work well.
Light Cahills/Cream Cahills/Little Yellow Quills:
There are also a lot of mayfly species that are
basic yellow colors that hatch throughout the
summer and fall months when nothing else is
happening. The Light Cahills, Cream Cahills,
and Little Yellow Quills for example. Often, due
to the fact that they are the only thing hatching,
trout will feed selectively on them in certain
areas of a stream where either of these three
types of mayflies are abundant. Usually the trout
will take the nymphs and emergers in
preference to the duns. A nymph or a wet
emerger pattern will outperform a dry fly ten to
one during such times.
Fishing for trout in the small streams of the
Smokies is not really any different than fishing
for trout in small, freestone headwater streams
anywhere else. It is a matter of knowing what
the trout are feeding on at any one given time
and place and imitating it, including its behavior,
with a fly. Determining what the trout are feeding
on is the first step in selecting a fly and the first
step in having a successful day. Those unable
or unwilling to do this are strictly relying on luck.
Copyright 2008 James Marsh
Stonefly Nymph: Not Identified but
one of the Golden Stoneflies.
Coffin Fly (Eastern Green Drake
Eastern Blue-winged Olive Nymph:
Short tails and big front legs help
indentify this one.
My dear, what long tails you have.
Dragonfly Nymph : When this one
hatches out, it will feed on the little
Eastern Blue-winged Olive
Slate Drake Dun: Don'[t bother to
match this mayfly. It will not see
the water. It hatches out of the
water and returns only as a
Stonefly Nymph: We think it is
one of the winter stoneflies.
American March Brown Nymph
State Drake Nymph
Clingerf Nymph: Not yet Identified
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Aquatic Insects: Stoneflies"
will teach you what you need
to know about stoneflies and
how to imitate their behavior.