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Secrets of Small-Stream Trout Fishing, with Guide Charity Rutter

Description: My guest this week is Charity Rutter [39:50], a great friend and longtime guide in the Great Smoky Mountains. She and her husband Ian have just finished a great book (I read the manuscript and loved it) and although it won't be available until April, you can pre-order it here: Charity shares her secrets for making more out of your time on small waters, and although she concentrates on her area, she has fished small streams throughout North America and her tips will help you no matter where you fish.
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Podcast Transcript:

Tom: Hi, and welcome to the "Orvis Fly Fishing Podcast." This is your host, Tom Rosenbauer. And my guest this week is Charity Rutter. Charity is a longtime guide in the Great Smoky Mountains, and loves small-stream fishing. And she's gonna share some of her tips and tricks for fishing small streams. And although she talks mainly about the Smokies, these tips can apply to small streams nearly anywhere in the world because they all fish about the same. There's some regional variations, but if you're a small stream fanatic and you love getting away from the crowds and fishing for wild trout and being in beautiful places, I think you'll enjoy this podcast.
Next, there's a product announcement, except I can't tell you about it today. But I want you all to stay tuned to Orvis social channels on Wednesday, February 7th. And I can't tell you. I wish I could tell you what it's about, but I can't tell you. But you'll know in a couple of days if you're listening to this podcast the day it was released. Anyway, stay tuned. It's pretty exciting stuff, and can't wait to tell you about it, and I'll tell you about it more in future podcasts.
But before we go and talk to Charity, let's do the Fly Box. And the Fly Box is where you ask me some questions or you share tips with other listeners, and sometimes I read them on the air. Now, there are no phone calls this week. I don't have any phone calls that I could play for you. I didn't have any that either I could use or I wanted to use. So, if you're interested in sending me a voice file recorded on your phone and then attached to your email, I'd appreciate it. A few more phone calls these days. I listen to them all. I don't answer them all, as you know, but I listen to them all. And if you have a question for me, you can send them to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. That's the email address. And I do read all of them. So, send your questions in.
The podcast wouldn't be what it is and wouldn't be as popular without the questions that you help me with. So, I wanna thank all of you for your great questions. Because they really educate me and I think that they educate a lot of other people who have similar problems or issues or questions to the ones you do. So, the first email, and they're all emails this week, is from William from Western North Carolina, "99% of the time, I agree with what you say, but what's the deal with all the hatred toward hook keepers? You guys are blaming broken rod tips on them now? Man, what did they do to y'all? I couldn't believe that was one of the reasons your guest was saying that Orvis was not putting them on rods anymore."
"The point about putting the fly up further on snake guides than wrapping the leader around the reel is a good tip. It's certainly not a cure-all. It's great for you if you have a nice trail to walk down, moving from spot to spot, or if you're putting your rod in a boat or a car. Try to do this while walking through thick brushes, problematic, and can even leave you tangled up on countless things. I'm talking small mountain stream fishing here with a 6-foot leader on a 7 1/2-foot rod, I can easily put the fly in the hook keeper and still have a little line out. This makes moving through the thicker rhododendron and dog hobble an easier task. Then, when you get to a pool or an open area, just grab the fly and you're ready to go."
"This makes for an easy setup to do a bow and arrow cast also. I know people use little orthopedic rubber bands to act as hook keepers you can put on your rod. I've got an Orvis solution and an Orvis endorsement to this problem. I love the Battenkill Click Pawl Reel for this. It's got small holes on the back of the reel. Just put your fly hook in one of the holes, and boom, a hook keeper. Besides that, it's a super versatile reel for around $150. I feel like that reel doesn't get enough love. Excited to see the new rendition in person. I do have a question. I've heard you shouldn't put your fly in the first stripping guide. Is that true? Also, is there any chance we can get a podcast-sent trout leaders? I know you wrote a book about tying your own. It seems that all I hear about is the size 3X through 5X, or the length 8 1/2-foot, and little else. It seems like an important factor that gets glazed over. Would be curious to hear your in-depth about this topic. Love the podcast, and we couldn't ask for a better mentor."
Well, thank you, William. And, you know, I do a lot of small-stream fishing with shorter rods and shorter leaders going through brush. It's what I do most often when I'm home here in Vermont. And I find that the rods that I do have with hook keepers, I find that the fly comes off the hook keeper more often than it comes off when I hook it on a guide. It just gets grabbed by branches and stuff, and it comes off the hook keeper, I think, easier than it does come off a guide. So, I'm not buying it. I'm not buying that we need hook keepers on our rods. They're an appendage that I think just gets in the way. And, you know, if you really want a hook keeper on your rod, you can use that rubber band trick. There's devices that are being sold now. Or you can buy yourself a spool of thread and a hook keeper, they're really cheap, and wind one on yourself and put a little epoxy on it and you'll be good to go. So, I'm not gonna try to talk the powers that be into putting hook keepers on the new rods.
Regarding putting a fly on your stripping guide. You don't wanna hook the fly through the guide itself. But if you use a stripping guide, it's perfectly all right to put the fly on the foot and the wire thing that holds the ring on your stripping guide. So, just don't put it right in the stripping guide. Some of those are ceramic and they could get scratched or cracked, but if you put it on the foot, that's just fine. And regarding your request for leaders. Yeah, I think there's a lot to talk about with leaders. Leaders mystify a lot of people. I think it is one of the most important, if not the most important part of your tackle. And there's a lot of nuances to leaders.
I've done podcasts on leaders before, but I'm going to I'm gonna find another guest who's a real leader geek and get him on the podcast. That's a great idea. Here's an email from Joe in Connecticut. "It was great to meet you at the Fly Fishing Show in Edison, New Jersey this past weekend. I bumped into you briefly, said hello, and let you continue on with your day. Just wanted to give you an update. I sent an email into the Fly Box in April, and it was answered on the air. I asked about tying flies to sell, and you recommended to tie for a local fly shop. As luck would have it, A buddy of mine has a brother who was headed to Alaska to do some salmon fishing and needed some flies tied for the trip. After his brother contacted me, we met up and he gave me some samples that he wanted me to replicate."
"I decided that I was up to the challenge. After we agreed on a price, I assembled all the necessary materials, hooks, beads, etc., and tied him the five dozen assorted flies, all leech patterns, that he wanted. We stayed in contact while he was on his two-week trip. He sent me some videos and photos of the many fish he caught with the flies I tied. I asked him how the flies were holding up, and he said that he only used four total flies for the entire time of his trip. Only one fly came apart after multiple days of fishing, but the rest proved to be very durable. I must admit, there was a tremendous sense of pride and satisfaction that flies I tied in Connecticut traveled across the country and caught fish for his annual fishing trip, the only time he gets out on the water each year."
"One last question. When you sit down to tie, not part of a video between you and Tim Flagler, what kind of music are you listening to?" Well, thank you for your email, Joe, and I'm so glad that that worked out for you. That's terrific. And yeah, it's great to catch fish on flies you tie yourself, but, you know, it's even greater sense of pride when you tie flies for someone else and they go out and have a great time with them and they don't fall apart. So, congratulations to you for doing a good job on those flies. Regarding what music I listen to, I have kind of eclectic tastes when I listen to music in general. I like some modern stuff, I guess you would call it Roots or Americana.
Some of my favorites are Dawes, Matthew Logan Vasquez, Darlingside is one of my very favorites. And then I'll throw in some '70s prog rock, maybe Yes, or Led Zeppelin on occasion, maybe a little Jackson Brown. And then I also listen to classical music. I like kind of contemporary classical music, not terribly avant-garde, but more modern classical with a little bit of an edge to it. Something like Wells Shostakovich from the last century, or Weinberg or John Adams. Music like that. Lots of different great modern composers out there. So, anyways, that's the music I listen to.
Here's one from Dan from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "Here's a tip for you specifically, and also for your listeners, get a wading staff. In the last two episodes, you said you have been resisting getting a wading staff. Why? Pride? Do you feel like you would be admitting your age? At age 62, I'm not as strong and flexible as I used to be, and my balance is not quite as good, just reality. About three years ago, I got a wading staff, and I don't know how many times I've commented to my wife that the staff is the best piece of fishing equipment I have purchased in a long time. The wading staff is one piece of equipment that has increased my enjoyment of fishing the most. I can move more quickly and safely across the rocky or slick bottom. It's also helped me when climbing up and down steep banks."
"The staff folds up and fits into a pocket of my squirrel hunting, fly-fishing vest, and I pull it out when needed. Once it's out, I leave it hanging from a belt loop on my left side attached with one of those retractable lines. It drags along behind as I wade, and is rarely a problem, but it's ready when I need it. A wading staff is simply a tool to make wading easier and more enjoyable. Why would you not use one? Give one a try. I'll bet you'll wish you had gotten one 20 years ago. Happy wading." Well, thank you, Dan. And yes, it's absolutely a matter of pride in not admitting my age. That's exactly what it is. You know, I guess I've mistakenly felt that I wanna be up to the challenge and I wanna hang in there with my younger fishing buddies, and I don't wanna be the old guy with the staff, but you and a number of other people who wrote into the podcast have convinced me, and I just bought one of those new Orvis wading staffs, the one made in Austria, and I'm taking it on my next fishing trip. We'll see how that goes.
Here's an email from Clifford. "Love to listen to you all day at work. I just have one question. I was watching a video on YouTube. The person in the video was stretching his fly line so his line would not coil up. Would this hurt the line at all or is it an old wives tale? Thank you again for all that you do." So, Clifford, no, it won't hurt the fly line at all. We recommend that people stretch their fly line, particularly if it's been on a reel for a long time or the weather's a little cold. Your line's gonna cast better, it's gonna shoot through the guides better, and it won't coil on the water. So, yes, stretching it won't hurt the line at all and is absolutely something you should be doing.
Here's another one on wading from Simone. "Thanks for a great episode." She's referring to the episode I did last week about fitness and wading and mindfulness. "I do take issue with a couple of points discussed." And she included a link to an article by Ralph Cutter from "Fly Fisherman Magazine." And I urge you all to look this up online, and it is online. The article is called The Big Swim, and it's by Ralph Cutter. And it's on Fly Fisherman Magazine's website. Ralph Cutter is someone I don't know, but I have read for years. And he's one of the most perceptive and helpful writers out there on fly fishing. And he really does research on things he talks about, so I would urge you all to read it.
But basically, what he says is the feet ahead of know, getting your feet downstream so that they're ahead of you as you're getting pushed downstream is not a good idea when you're wearing waders. It's recommended by kayakers and canoeists because they have a PFD on. But if you don't have a PFD on and you have waders on, and maybe your belt isn't tight enough or you forgot a wader belt, your waders can fill up like a sea anchor and push you downstream and prevent you from maneuvering and actually push you into obstacles like a sweeper or something. So, what Ralph Cutter recommends is not to be passive, but to swim as hard as you can, for sure. Dog paddle or whatever stroke you can do, side stroke, whatever, and get to shore or get to shallower water as quickly as possible.
And then don't try to stand up. It's not very pretty and it's not very graceful, but crawl up until you're out of the water, and then get the water outta your waders. Because it's really difficult to stand up when your waders are filled with water. You know, it makes the point that we all need to wear wader belts when we're in bigger rivers, or any river, actually, where the water's gonna be over knee deep. And you need to cinch it tightly so that water doesn't get into your waders. And also, an interesting thing he recommends in this article is to wear a second wader belt. Wear one around your waist, as we usually do, and then wear one up just under your arms at the top of the wader. And this will keep the water from getting into the wader and acting as a sea anchor. And it'll actually help to keep the rest of your body dry if you do fall in. So, a couple of good points there, and some things to think about.
And then Simone goes on to say, "Ralph discusses wader acting as sea anchor," which I just described, "And that using the traditional feet down head upstream, the wader continues to fill with water and the flow steers the swimmer. He gives clear instructions on how to get out of a dangerous swim. The other thing that I point out is something I learned in Swiftwater rescue training. Turn facing into the current, walk upstream on a diagonal. And if wading downstream, never turn your back to the flow. The reason, if you fall, the current pushes you face into the water rather than an upstream-facing fall where the current would not trap you face down. Same with a foot entrapment. If you get a foot entrapment facing upstream, the flow can assist in freeing your foot. Downstream-facing foot entrapment, the flow is pushing your foot in theory into the entrapment and makes freeing it more difficult."
When I work with new fly anglers, wading safety is the first thing we discuss on the river. We need more attention given to this topic. So, thank you. And I should really try to get Ralph Cutter on this podcast to talk about that. Because there were a lot of emails about wading safety, and it's something that... People drown every year wading in trout streams. That's something that we should all be as cognizant as we can about. So, thank you Simone for that. Here's one from Wayne. "My comment first. Currently, in the Keys and my 10-plus-year-old Battenkill Mid Arbor I use on my 8-weight had a little wobble in it. I sent it back to your reel repair shop, expecting I'd get it back in a few weeks. They turned it around in two days. Great process and customer service. Hats off to your team."
"Recommendations for listeners. Whether salt or freshwater fishing, I put trash in my back left pocket, snack wrappers, tippet cuts, other people's fishing line that I find on the banks, etc.. If I remember, I empty out my pocket at the end of the day. If I forget, the dryer lint bin collects all my debris and it doesn't go into the environment. In my F-150, I have a handful of wine corks and bandanas. When I'm done fishing, I will break my rod in half and reel all the line to the hook, and will have a wine cork on the point to protect the seats. Then I secure top and bottom of the rod by tying the bandanas around both pieces. Keep my back seat up and I can fit three rods on top of the closed seats. Hope this helps someone in tight lines."
Well, thank you Wayne. Those are good tips. And thank you for your compliments on our reel repair business. Here's an email from George. "Looking at the new Orvis Approach PRO Hikers for saltwater use. Ad suggests that wading socks are not necessary. Any thoughts?" Well, George, it really depends on what you're going to use those PRO Approach hikers for. So, if you are just using them to wear on a boat for traction on a boat, getting in and out of a boat and not doing a lot of walking and wading, then I'd say, yeah, socks aren't necessary. However, if you are someone like me who might walk 2 or 3 miles on a flat in a day and does a lot of walking on sandy beaches looking for fish, I would definitely wear some sort of sock.
And one of the best socks you can find for this use are the 0.5 or 1/2-millimeter Orvis wading socks. They're not that expensive, and, you know, they will really, really prevent you from getting blisters on your feet. Depends on how tough your feet are too. But, you know, most of us don't have really tough feet because we don't go around barefoot that much. And I would say if you're doing a lot of walking and a lot of wading, then I would wear a sock. And that 1/2-millimeter weight sock is a great investment. They're not very expensive, and they will save you from sore feet and blisters. I know the catalog says you don't need wading socks, but I think you do, for most circumstances.
Here's one from John from Neenah, Wisconsin. "In a recent podcast, you mentioned you may need to start using wading staff." Here we go again. "And you sounded a little hesitant. As a 30-year-old man, I can say there's absolutely no shame in using one. I've been using one for years on both big rivers and small streams, and it has definitely come in handy multiple times when navigating the current. Do yourself a favor and attach one to your wading belt. You'll be wishing you had done it sooner." All right everyone, I hear you. I'll do it. I'll do it.
Here's one from Chris. "I have a question regarding Euro nymphing. Is it possible to fish this style of fly fishing in ponds and lakes, or is it best presented in moving water? My fly-tying tip pertains to peacock-herled bodies. When tying a print or any fly with a peacock body, after tying in the peacock material, I wrap it around my tying thread, and then proceed to wrap forward. The tying thread adds strength to the peacock herl. I find the fly will last much longer and the peacock herl doesn't start unraveling after several catches. Thank you for everything you do for the sport of fly fishing. Always looking forward to new episodes." Well, thank you, Chris. That's a good tip on peacock herl. You can just wrap the tying thread around the...or wrap the herls around the tying thread. Or you can actually make a dubbing loop and put the herl inside the dubbing loop. That'll help protect it as well.
Regarding Euro nymphing in ponds and lakes, I personally don't see a circumstance where it would be useful, because you generally can't get as close to fish in ponds and lakes as you can in a river, and you really need current to effectively use this method. So, you know, if there's a current in the pond like an inlet or something, or an outlet, yeah, then it might work. But just fishing ponds and lakes, unless you got fish that are kind of just sitting there and you wanna plop a fly right in front of them and you can get close enough to them, I don't see any application for a Euro nymphing.
Now, you could use a Euro nymphing rod with, you know, a 2 or 3-weight line in fish and lakes and ponds. But I think you really want a real fly line. You just can't get the cast and the retrieve as easily with a Euro leader as you can with a regular fly line. Now, you can use the same flies, you can definitely use the Euro nymphing flies in a lake or pond, but I don't think you wanna use the long leader method in still water. If anybody disagrees with me or uses it that way, send me an email. Here's one from Dave from Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. "I would like to know about shock leaders, as I've heard they're required for tarpon. I've watched a few videos and none have been the same."
"If you make your own, is it required that you have to do a real heavy mono in the middle for the shock, or towards tippet more, or towards the butt more? This is something I would like to understand a bit more about this phenomenon. Also, can you give a shout out to my brother Jeff in Fort Valley, Virginia? It would make his day as you are one of our mentors and heroes." Well, there's the shout out, Jeff. Dave, the term shock leader is kind of a misnomer. Yes, they do provide a little bit of shock because they're often tied in with a bimini twist, which has some shock absorption properties. But in the tarpon fishing that I have done, the shock leader is used because tarpon have a very abrasive mouth and they can wear through a finer leader.
They don't seem to like wire, but they don't mind a big, heavy monofilament shock leader. So, it's mainly to avoid cutting your tippet where you attach your fly on the gill plates of a tarpon or on its abrasive mouth during a long fight. So, I don't think you'd wanna put the shock material in the middle or toward the butt section. You definitely want that as your last piece of material close to the fly. And if you're gonna go tarpon fishing, you're probably going with a guide. And every guide has a different philosophy on how a shock leader should be tied and exactly what should be in it and what not, and so on. So, if you're going with a guide, I wouldn't worry too much about it because if you tie your own leaders and you go and fish with a guide, they're probably gonna throw them out and make you use their leaders because they don't wanna risk a leader they don't know anything about. Anyway. But definitely, you wanna put that shock material, the heavy material closest to the fly.
Here's one from AJ from Ohio. "During September of 2022, you did a podcast with Dr. J, not the basketball player, on injury prevention. I use diabetes as an excuse to go fly fishing because it is a great form of exercise and it helps keep my A1C in check. This keeps my wife from getting mad at me when I fish three hours a day, four days a week during the warmer months of the year. I have a dartboard in the house. And when the weather gets too cold to be outside, I start throwing darts about 45 minutes a day to get my exercise. I noticed last spring that I was not complaining about soreness and stiffness in my muscles, like other people I know who fly fish. I realized then that the dart throwing helps keep the muscles I use in fly fishing in shape. And when I started fly fishing in the spring, I wasn't as sore as everyone around me."
"My tip is to prevent that muscle soreness and stiffness from happening in the spring when you start getting back out on the water, throw darts and work those muscles during the winter. Throwing darts does not work the muscles in the exact same way as fly fishing, but it keeps those muscles active, and it helps." Well, AJ that's an interesting tip, and I never heard that before. But I would imagine it would help both with hand-eye coordination in casting and in keeping your wrists and shoulder and forearm more limber. But I also would not neglect your core and your lower body, because if you're doing any kind of wading at all or just if you're standing in a flats boat or standing in a drift boat you're gonna be using your lower body quite a bit as well. So, I think that throwing darts is fine, but I would urge everybody to do whole-body exercise that keeps you fit in limber, because you'll be able to fish a lot longer and with less pain.
Here's one from Mike from Edmonton, Alberta. "I've been fly fishing a little bit for about six years now. I only get out a couple of times a year due to having a couple of young boys. However, that'll change as they get older and can join me. I have a stock trout pond right by my house that I try to get to in the evening after the boys go to bed. I've also been doing a guided flow trip on the Bow River in Calgary once a year for the past three years. Last year, I was introduced to mountain streams and rivers. It was a blast, and I'll definitely be going back. I was using some rubber-soled wading boots that I figured would've been decent being a brand name and middle price range point. But they were very slippery on a lot of the rocks, especially the ones with slime on them."
"The other guys in the group had felt-soled boots and walked all over those rocks like nothing. I know here in Western Canada, that felt boots are prohibited in some of the rivers due to whirling disease. That's why I purchased the rubber-soled boots. Would it be worthwhile to purchase some studs and cleats for my boots? They are studdable. Or should I invest in a new pair of boots with felt sole and keep my rubber ones not studded for if I fish a river, were felt is prohibited? Another thing I'd have to consider if I stud them would be to check with the guide with the drift boat to see if they allow studs in the boat for if I do an early season float. I've never tried studs cleats before, but for some reason, I think it would make it more slippery on wet rocks being metallic on a hard surface. Hopefully, you give me some direction on which way I should go. Thanks, Tom."
So, Mike, you know, rubber soles are great, and rubber soles have improved. The Orvis Michelin in the rubber sole wading boots is a superior rubber and it does grip quite well. However, if you're gonna be fishing on slippery rocks with rubber-soled wading boots, you really need to stud them. They're great in snow, they're great in mud, they're great in gravel, they're great in sand, they're great in rocks that aren't too slippery. But if you get any kind of algae or slipperiness on rocks, you really should put studs in those rubber-soled boots. The studs actually, they cut through the slime. They kind of slice through that slime, and then give you a grip on the rock. And they really do work. And it'll make all the difference in the world on slippery rock.
So, there's a couple ways you can go. One is, there's an Orvis PRO boot that has a hybrid sole. So, it has an outer layer of sticky rubber, Michelin rubber, and then an interior of felt. And these are the boots I use where felt isn't prohibited because I have the advantage of the felt being able to cut through that slime and grip on rocks. Yet when I'm walking up a muddy slippery bank, the rubber on the outside of the soles grips the bank. So, I think those boots are the best of both worlds, and you can actually stud those as well. Going to straight felts, you know, they work great on slippery rocks, but again, they're not so great on walking up slippery banks. They're terrible in the snow and ice. So, you know, I think this hybrid sole is a great way to go.
But the first thing I would do is stud those rubber-soled boots you have. Now, regarding drift boats and especially rafts, you do have to ask the guide. Most guides these days put mats in their boats, you know, an old horse mat or an indoor mat or carpeting or something so that the studs on your boots don't scratch and mar their drift boat. You have to be careful getting in and out of the boat that you don't scratch it with studs. But most guides are used to people coming with studs these days. It is a good idea to check with a guide but a lot of them will say, "Yeah, it's okay. I've got mats in my boat, don't worry about it." So, check with a guide, and put some studs in your rubber boots, and I think you're gonna have a lot more success on those slippery rocks when you put those studs in.
Here's one from Steve from the UK. I have a question linked to blue lining and trout distribution in remote lakes and streams. In your experience, if an isolated mountain lake is known to support a population of wild brown trout, which have been there since the last ice age, might these trout have populated the streams that run out of the lake even if those streams themselves lead to nowhere in particular, that is, they may simply peter out into boggy areas? For some reason, it seems more obvious that trout might move into streams that run into a lake rather than out of a lake. I'll hopefully find out myself on a blue line trip, but wonder what your view would be. Thanks very much for the podcast. Really appreciate the time and effort that must go into producing them for us."
Now, first of all, Steve, it must be great to live, and I dearly love brown trout, but it must be great to live in a place where they're native and they've been there since the last ice age, as you have there in Europe. Yeah, brown trout will run out of lakes and down into creeks and rivers, and they'll run up either direction. Brown trout will go wherever it suits them and wherever the habitat is right. And if the habitat is right in the streams that flows out, they will definitely go down into those streams. Absolutely. Yeah, for sure they'll go up into tributaries because that's where they're gonna spawn, but they sometimes may even go down out of a lake. If there's the right gravel and the right water flow, they'll spawn in outlets as well as inlets. And they'll just go down there to live and feed, because there's often a lot more food in the moving water than there is in a lake, and easy to capture food. So, yeah, I would definitely check out the outlets and the inlets when you try those remote lakes.
Here's one from Clay. "The other day I was fishing a local trout stream in West Michigan when I hooked the most abundant fish on the river, a log resting on the stream bed. I was using a two-fly indicator rig with my bottom fly attached via tippet to the bend of the top hook. When I dislodged from the log, I found that I had lost my bottom fly tippet and all. After examining my fly, I found that the hook was slightly straightened, leading me to conclude that my knot slipped off the barbless hook. I'm wondering if you ever had a similar experience. Does it make sense to run a barbed hook on the top fly and barbless below? Lastly, is there a particular knot you suggest when attaching tippet to the bend of the hook?"
Well, Clay, you know that happens rarely. I've had it happen a few times in fish, but usually, as you experienced on a snag where the tippet slips off the barbless hook because there's nothing to hold it on there anymore, and especially if it's a little bit bent. And it does happen. I generally don't worry too much about it, you lose the occasional fly. But there's a way to prevent that, and that's to tie your top fly, whether it's a nymph or a dry fly, tie that onto the tippet. And then tie your lower fly, usually your dropper nymph with a dry dropper rig, to the eye of the dry fly instead of to the hook. And it seems to work just as well, and you'll tangle less. You know the fish seem to eat the dry fly fine even though there's another piece of tippet coming out of the eye. But that will prevent this problem. As far as a knot to tie to the bend of the lower fly, a clinch knot, standard six-turn clinch knot is the best knot I've found the easiest. There may be other ones that you can use, but good old clinch knot works just fine for me.
And finally, here's one from Max in southwest Virginia. "I started fly fishing a couple months ago, and I love it. I started with a dry nymphing rod, 9-foot, 5-weight rod and reel setup. But I would like to get into streamer fishing for trout and panfish. Can you recommend a size rod and line weight for my first streamer setup?" So, Max, first of all, for panfish, you're generally not fishing that big of a fly. And, you know, the panfish themselves aren't very big. And I think you can use that 9-foot, 5-weight rod for panfish all day long. It'll work just fine. That's what I use for panfish generally. And even for your streamer fishing, I don't wanna talk you outta buying a new rod, but, you know, 9-foot, 5-weight, as long as you're not using a big heavy air-resistant streamer, if you're using a lightly-weighted streamer or an unweighted streamer size 8, 10, or 12, a 5-weight rod will work fine.
You wanna cut your leader back so it's a little bit stiffer. You wanna use a little bit heavier tip, but your 5-weight rod will throw the smaller streamers. If you do wanna get into bigger streamers and you want a dedicated streamer rod, either a 6 or a 7-weight would probably be adequate. And I think that where you are in Virginia, you've got some pretty good smallmouth bass fishing around there, and a 7-weight's a great rod for smallmouth bass. You could even use it for very light saltwater fishing. So, since you already have a 5 and you and you want a new rod for streamer fishing, I would go with a 7-weight. I think that would be a 5-foot, 7-weight or a 10-foot 7-weight would be a, I think, perfect rod for you to add to your quiver.
All right. That is the Fly Box for this week. Let's go talk to Charity about one of my favorite things to do, small-stream fishing in the mountains. So, my guest today is my friend, Charity Rutter. Charity is part of a husband-wife guiding team from the Great Smoky Mountains. What's the name of your operation, Charity?
Charity: We are R&R Fly Fishing.
Tom: R&R Fly Fishing, out of what town?
Charity: Townsend, Tennessee. We're one of the little gateway towns to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We're the town that is the nearest Cades Cove.
Tom: We're gonna talk about, you do a lot of small stream fishing, and you do it, not only in your backyard in the Smokies, but you do it when you travel to the Rocky Mountains and other places. So, we can talk about small-stream fishing in general and why we'd even wanna do it, and the difference between wild and hatchery fish, and how the Western and Eastern streams are similar or different, and all that kind of stuff.
Charity: Absolutely. Sounds fun.
Tom: Okay. So, let's talk about, first of all, finding a new one. How do you find a new one?
Charity: A new stream?
Tom: Yeah. Let's say you're traveling around the Smokies or you're traveling somewhere else and you wanna fish a small stream. What do you do?
Charity: Gosh. You know, when we are here, the Gray Smoky Mountain National Park, a lot of the roadways have very easy access by just pullouts on the side of the road. No matter where we are, if we are driving down a road and there's water, our eyes are fixed on water. It's really dangerous when we're driving actually near water...
Tom: Yeah, me too.
Charity: ...because we're always looking at the water on the side of the road lots of times. But just watching, just looking at the water and, you know, looking at something. We often say out loud, "Oh, there's gonna be a trout right there." Just recognizing some simple things about the rivers when we know that there's a trout population there already from either, you know, maps, or fishing guides, or you know, just an area that we've read about or know that is a stream of trout. We're always looking for certain things in the water.
Tom: What do you look for?
Charity: First of all, we're looking for oxygenated water. Anywhere there are spills and waterfalls, we know that that water's gonna be colder and be a great environment for a trout. Because just getting the oxygen in the water cools the water. The white water tends to make a good hiding place for the trout to hide from predators. And then we're looking for that bubble line. And we're always looking for bugs as well. You know, it's really fun when we're traveling, when we stop somewhere and we have, in front of the truck or the windshield's covered with bugs that we recognize as trout foods, mayflies or sun flies or caddis, and things that we know are hatching and moving there. So, we're always watching that too, you know, watching for a rise or something like that. Even if we're just watching something on television, we'll say, "Oh, did you see that fish rise in [crosstalk 00:43:19]?"
I think it's kind of ridiculously addiction we have to watching the water for things that live underneath the surface.
Tom: It is. Yes, it is.
Charity: You know. You do it too.
Tom: I do it too. Yeah, absolutely. I do it too. Let's say you're interested in a stream that you can't see from the road, you wanna try to evaluate it on a map or on Google Earth or whatever. You know, maybe it flows into another stream you've fished or it flows into a bigger river, but there's no roads that you can drive along and see it, so you have to evaluate it on paper or online first. What do you look for there?
Charity: Oh gosh. Well, where we are in the Smokies, we really rely on the maps and things that are provided. We always direct people that are coming this direction to, you know, look at the maps that the national parks provide. They're usually gonna give you information about the fishery that's there. We do a lot of reading in advance before we go places to try to figure out, you know, what elevation is the water cool enough to support trout. Where we are, you know, there's a certain elevation that you get to, and if you ask me the exact number, I can't tell you.
Tom: Well, give me an estimate of the elevation.
Charity: You know, stuff over 3000 feet. You're gonna start getting into that cooler water where the trout are more active, where the food is more abundant, there's a lot more oxygen in the water. And if you've ever visited the Smoky Mountains, and basically, the Appalachian Mountains in general, the elevation shift in the waterways, it's not only beautiful, but it just creates such a perfect environment for trout.
Tom: Yeah. Even though you're fairly far south, and people don't think of the south as holding, you know, native trout and wild trout. Once you get above that elevation, the water stays cool enough.
Charity: Yeah. Well, we experience a lot of people that visit the Smoky Mountains, you know, they see the clear water, a lot of areas are very shallow, and they just immediately think that if they can't see those trout, they're not there. But, you know, on average, our larger streams in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park hold over 2,000 trout per mile. So, it's pretty humbling when you're fly fishing for them, But you know, our streams are abundant. And there's just a lot of little tips and techniques and things that we love to share with people that we feel, like, really help your success in the Great Smoky Mountains, as well as fishing small streams in other places.
And, you know, we've always said if you can catch fish in the Smoky, you can catch fish anywhere, just because there's so many little technical things that you kind of make work together that if you go to other streams in other parts of the country that are small streams, mountain streams, they're gonna have a lot of overlap in their characteristics, but they also have a lot of different... You know, Ian and I always talk about how fishing different places, it's the same but different. Like, you might use a bigger rod because they're bigger fish, or, you know, when we're fishing smaller streams out west, we don't typically have near as much cover from the trees and the rhododendron and that sort of of thing. We usually have more space for casting. So, sometimes your approach is a little different, but still the same.
Tom: Okay. So, let's talk about some of these tips or tricks that you share with your clients.
Charity: Sure. So, when you think about the nature of a trout and how they eat, they're always sitting with their nose in the current, waiting for the food to get carried to them. So, if you're wanting to sneak up on a trout anywhere, you don't necessarily wanna come at them the same direction their food is coming from. You want your fly to come from that direction, but you're so much bigger and you've got motion and sometimes reflection off of a piece of clothing or a pair of glasses or anything on your body that could possibly alert the trout of your presence.
You don't want them to see that part of you or you moving before they see your fly. So, our goal is always to make sure that the fish sees the fly before they see us. So, by fishing upstream, if you are standing in the water looking where the current is coming towards you, then you're sitting in the water the same way the trout is.
They're looking upstream towards the current waiting for their food to be carried towards them. So, if you cast your flight upstream and let the water carry it back to you, the goal is that that trout is between where your fly lands and where you are standing so that the current carries your fly to the fish, you set your hook and land your fish. You start close to you first. You and I were talking about this not too long ago how it's a person's natural, what's the word I'm looking for, their natural reaction or whatever is to approach a stream and there's a big waterfall at the top, and they automatically wanna cast all the way up to that big waterfall. And I'm not gonna tell you're not gonna catch a fish in that pool at the waterfall, but what I'm gonna tell you is you're probably gonna alert every fish between you and that waterfall of your presence.
Charity: So, and then the ones closest to you, see you first, and they go running up into that pool and alert everything else there, "Hey, something's wrong here. There's something big coming." They'll hide.
Tom: And don't you find that usually, the better fish are toward the tail of a waterfall pool, the tail out?
Charity: Almost always. The biggest fish that we've seen in trout streams, they're always sitting, I kind of call them the godfathers of the pool. They're kind of sitting back quiet, watching everything else, and then deciding when and where they're gonna eat. They're not as, I don't know, they don't seem to be as greedy as the smaller fish. They're little more educated, I guess, the educated ones that sit back...
Tom: Suspicious.
Charity: Yes. So, a good example is when we're doing presentations, easy way for me to describe this to people is imagine you're standing at the front of a room or at the back and everybody in the room is looking towards the front of the room. So, if you wanna sneak up on people, you're gonna first reach out to the person that's closest to you, then you're gonna go to the next aisle, then maybe to the left and the next aisle, working your way to the other end of the room instead of throwing something all the way to the front of the room so that everybody in the room turns around and looks at you. You wanna just get one person's attention at a time like you're pulling them out of the room one at a time before the person sitting by themselves on the front row realizes they're the only person left sitting in the room.
Tom: That's a little creepy. That's a little creepy, Charity. I don't know.
Charity: It's a little sneak attach kind of thing. Before I was a fly fisher, I never really realized how much rules of hunting are really involved in fishing over wild fish, just like when you're hunting, you don't wanna let them know that you're there before you catch them. So, otherwise, the rule number one is fish don't wanna get caught. So, that's something we always talk about when we're talking to people about rules to fish by or rules for success when you're fishing wild trout streams.
Tom: And they don't eat when they're scared.
Charity: They don't eat. when they're scared, they kind of lockdown. It's really cool, with your polarized glasses, lots of times you can see those fish sitting out in the water. And sometimes if you're at the right angle, you can see without your polarized glasses. But it's really interesting to watch a fish. We spend a lot of time going out and just watching fish and not fishing just to kind of see their reaction and how they move. And you could be sitting watching a fish that's just eating and eating and happy, and I call it the happy tail, like a dog wagging its tail. You see that fish, it's just holding in the current and weaving back and forth. And then as soon as you make a noise or a splash, they freeze.
And it's like when they freeze, they disappear because sometimes they'll sit down lower or maybe they just kind of barely slide backwards underneath a piece of wood or a boulder, or into a shadow. And it's really amazing their instant nature of, "Oh shoot, I have to hide," and all the time, all the time in wild trout streams. We say that they're born paranoid because they always have something out there that wants to eat them.
Tom: Yeah. Everybody wants to eat trout because they're soft and they don't have big scales or spines, so everybody likes to eat them.
Charity: Yeah. Especially big birds.
Tom: Yeah. So, I've got I've got a question for you. Do you ever fish downstream? And there's sometimes when maybe you have an obstruction and like a big log or a tree across the river and there's a nice pool ahead of it, but you have to approach them from downstream, do you ever try to do that?
Charity: Lots of times we're able to do that like reaching over white water. white water really creates a barrier that a lot of people don't consider. You can have like a standing wave or white water and be reaching straight across from you and dropping the fly right under your rod tip and the fish won't see you because you are masked by that white water and the noise of it. So, there are a lot of instances like that where you can... For us, when we're in a wild trout stream, we try as much as possible not to get in the water. We are rarely in the water, over our knees.
And sometimes we may wait out and then find a good boulder to stand behind, that way we don't have the current pushing against us to risk falling down or slipping or getting pushed around. And then being able to use that barrier to keep us hidden, to keep our good footing, and then fish from there. We often fish straight across from where we're standing if we have a barrier.
Tom: Yeah. So, do you ever fish downstream? Do you ever work downstream in these small streams?
Charity: Not usually. If we see something... Maybe if we're streamer fishing if the water's tented like after a big rain or something like that, we might strip a streamer from the top of the pool down towards us and then kind of let it swing across the tail. The nature of the river, it kind of cuts a little scoop in front of every waterfall. And when I say in front of, I mean, upstream of, right before the white water spills over, there's usually like a little scoop and cut there, there's a soft little spot for fish to sit where they can sit down under where that water is just about to release over a ledge. And it creates some kind of a little scoop where they don't seem to have as much pressure pushing against them to fight the current.
Considering trouts are cold-blooded, they're not really gonna sit in a place where they have to use all of their energy just to eat. So, they're always looking for that soft edge or that little scoop in front of a waterfall, or right beside a big boulder or something like that. So, in that case, sometimes we might but usually because our water here in the Great Smoky Mountains is so clear, we rarely fish downstream. Now, I'll tell somebody that who's never fished here all day long and will be out on the water and they'll be walking, letting their fly drag behind them, and it never fails, they'll catch fish.
And so then I have to convince them again to fish upstream instead of downstream, "Those fish can see us, they know we're here. Look the other way." So, it's not that it can't be done, but definitely more successful casting up and across instead of down below where you are. If you're casting below, I would say, make sure that you're hidden, you have a good barrier of like a log or a boulder or something like that. Lots of times you can stand. There's a few places that come to mind on some brook trout streams that I love to fish here, where you can be upstream and you kind of had to get out of the water to move upstream because of the giant boulders, that sort of thing. And then you come back in and you're right up against the giant boulder that you just walked around.
Lots of times you can kind of just lean up against that boulder and do like a little roll cast, reaching over the pocket of water that's beside that big boulder below you, but it's almost like you're trying to hold your body tight against the boulder so the fish don't see your silhouette or a shadow or anything like that. So, sometimes that works, you can kind of pop one out of a little pocket like that from upstream, but still just remaining hidden so that you don't alert them of your presence.
Tom: And you wanna talk a little bit about flies and techniques, what flies do you typically fish and how do you rig them, and so on?
Charity: Sure, we can do that. Lots of times fishing people kind of look at me crazy when I tell them to fish a shorter leader here. There's so much current and different speeds of water happening around the boulders and with the elevation and different little waterfalls spilling in that it's not uncommon to be standing in a stream in the Smoky and look from where you're standing on one side of the river to the other and you're gazing across five or six different speeds of current just in one little section. So, keeping your leader, I always say keep your leader the same length or shorter, typically shorter than your rod.
The reason is we do a lot of really short casting, talking about those barriers, I talked about reaching over white water and just dropping your fly right off your rod tip. That's no exaggeration, you've probably got six or eight inches of fly line out the tip of your rod, then your leader and your fly sitting on the surface. So, you think about the length of your rod, typically eight or nine feet when you're fishing in these mountain streams, eight or nine-foot rod. And then you've got your leader and you're thinking about all of the trees and the overhang. You don't wanna have to hold that rod straight up in the air for your fly to rest on the surface of the water.
You wanna be more of a reach across instead of pointing it up to the sky while you're drifting it, you wanna be more across so that you can easily move in case there are branches or things. Also to give yourself space for the hook set. So, if your rod tip is already up really high and then you try to hook set, you end up throwing it up high into branches or in the trees way above you, where if you can keep that rod tip closer to the surface of the water during your drift, you're less likely to throw your line and your rod tip into tree branches so it doesn't impede on your hooks that... It's happened many times where you're fishing in a really tight spot and you hook a fish and you lift your rod tip and hit a branch.
So, then you have to bring your rod tip back down while the fish come up, because then you throw slack in your line, bringing your rod tips down. So, we talk a lot about a sidearm cast and keeping your rod out in front of your body for your cast instead of that standard up-over-your-shoulder, up-to-your-ear kind of cast. We kind of talk about shoulder width, keep your cast and your stop about the width of your shoulders in front of your body. And you can keep that rod tip low so that your cast, your line doesn't get caught in the trees and your hook set doesn't get you into the trees as well.
Tom: Yeah. A short leader makes sense there because you need some fly line outside of the tip of your rod to make the rod work. And if your leader's too long and you have to have the leader inside the guides, then you're gonna...
Charity: Yeah, it has no weight.
Tom: Yeah. You're gonna have problems with casting and with holding.
Charity: Yeah. Having...
Tom: Go ahead.
Charity: Absolutely. Just having that little bit of weight out of the rod tip makes a huge difference in being able to get your cast where you want it. If you're just trying to cast a leader, the rods are made to have that weight of line coming through them, and you gotta do something to make that rod tip flex to make your fly turnover, to reach where you're casting. So, having a shorter leader so you're not casting as much leader... Now, if you're on a big flat open lake or some big flat trophy kind of stream like the Henry's Fork, stuff like that, it's different. It's different. Lots of times you need that longer leader to be able to, again, get your fly in front of the fish before they see you.
Tom: Or your line.
Charity: You gotta slower water, it's much harder to sneak up on them. Yeah, or your line. Exactly.
Tom: So, do you typically fish dries, dry droppers? Oh, before we talk about flies, what length of leader do you typically use in streams like this?
Charity: Sure. Typically I recommend a 7-foot leader. It's just easy. If you need a little bit of length to it, you can always add a little tippet. But a 7-foot leader, whether you're fishing an 8-foot rod or a 9-foot rod, a 7-foot leader is gonna work really well for you on these small mountain streams like we have here in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Tom: Okay. Typically they're 7 1/2. So, do you cut them back?
Charity: Oh, yeah. 7, 7 1/2. You know 71/2 at 5X or 4X, I tend to, when I'm guiding people, I tend to use a 4X leader just because it's very, very common, even for those of us that do it all the time, is very common to get your fly caught on a branch.
Tom: Really? That never happens to me.
Charity: No. We call that squirrel fishing around here. That 4X tends to let you get your fly back a lot easier than 5X. So, you're not decorating the trees as much with your flies when you fish 4X. And really, so much of it is about getting that natural drift. I don't really feel like our fish are tippet shy as much as they're scared of a fly that goes overhead like a UFO or a bomber and they're just like, "What the heck was that?"
Tom: Yeah. And with a short cast, you don't need to worry so much about drag.
Charity: Absolutely. Well, and there's so many times I tell people, make that cast and reach across like you're just trying to barely hold your dry fly on the surface of the water. And I tell them the same if they're fishing a dry dropper, which is one of my favorite ways to fish. When you're first starting out at a spot and you're not really sure if fish are coming up, or maybe you're seeing a move but you're not necessarily seeing them break the surface, I get pretty mad if a fish comes up and eats a strike indicator. I would much rather have a dry fly on top that I can watch instead of a strike indicator.
So, it never fails. I'll put on a strike indicator somewhere and then a fish will come up and hit my strike indicator before they hit my nip and I'm just like, "All right, forget it. Just go, give me a dry flag, give me a hopper, give me a Parachute Adams stimulator, whatever I need and put up there."
Tom: So, are you almost always fishing dry dropper under normal conditions?
Charity: Our fish are really top water-oriented here in the Smoky. I don't know if that's because of the clear water or because...I'm just not sure why. I know they have a lot of overhead predators, so maybe they're always on the lookout of something above more than down below. But we have really top water-oriented trout here in the Smoky, and so we're almost always fishing a dry fly and then adding a dropper. In the fall we'll get to points where we're fishing deep slow slots with heavy nymphs kind of thing, but not near as often as we're fishing dry flies. If I was told I could only fish one fly in this park ever and nothing else, it would be a Parachute Adam.
Tom: What size?
Charity: Oh, like a 12 or 14 probably 14. Fourteen is just a really good basic size. Our general patterns really work well. It's so much more about the drift and not spooking the fish. I know Ian was interviewed one time about flies in the Smoky, and one of our clients was trying to tie a fly for some contest with a magazine or something, and then Ian said, "You know, Mark, you could tie a line of bean on a hook, and if you get a good drift, you're probably gonna catch a fish here." And so he actually tie a line of bean on a hook and won, like, honorable mention in... It's really funny.
Tom: Well, I think, I think it makes sense because fish can see a dry dryly easier coming than they can see a nymph. And they are generally so shallow that it's not that much difference for them to eat a nymph for a dry fly. They're so close to the surface anyway most of the time. And a lot of their food comes from above. They eat a lot of terrestrials in these small streams. So, I think dry fly is... I find the same thing that it's just so effective.
Charity: Yeah. It just tends to be really effective. And we have such a huge variety of bugs. The diversity of bugs here is just awesome. We have so many different kinds of mayflies and stoneflies and Caddis and things that live in our river. There was a study in the Great Smoky Mountains, it's been probably close to 20 years now, there was a group coming to determine whether or not the Great Smoky Mountains could be classified as a biodiverse eco here. And they were supposed to be here six months, and they ended up staying two and a half years. They found ridiculous amounts of species, not just bugs, but salamanders and [inaudible 01:08:09] and butterflies and lichen and molds and mushrooms and all kinds of things that now there's a research center over on the Gatlinburg side of the National Park called Twin Creeks.
And researchers and biologists and environmentalists come from all over the world to study things here. They're still finding... I know 20 years ago they found 19 aquatic insects, brand new to science. And I believe to date, it's either close to or exceeded 200 new species of aquatic insects in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that they've identified. That's pretty impressive. Pretty cool. So, our fish have lots to eat, and they have to eat.
Tom: Yeah. It just goes to show that you don't want to get hung up trying to identify the bugs that you see in a trout stream to species because they might not have ever been identified, right?
Charity: Absolutely. Well, and you know, Tom, that's something, especially when I'm doing my women's classes and doing my women's camp, I really try to emphasize, don't get hung up on having to know the name of the fly or the name of the bug. It can be really intimidating. A lot of people love to know every bit of... I'm sure you know so many different names of flies and bugs and things just because of all the fly time you do and your years of experience, but somebody who's brand new to it, I just tell them, I'm like, "Look, if you go to the edge of the stream," and I'll hold up my fingers, like holding it up like it's this big, like, "If you see something about this big and yellow, look in your fly box and find something about this big and yellow. Hit on."
Tom: It's not that hard.
Charity: It's not that hard. And you don't have to know the scientific name of that bug or its subspecies or whatever.
Tom: Yeah, you don't. You don't, it.
Charity: It doesn't have to be intimidating, just keep it simple. Especially when I'm teaching, I'm just all about keeping it simple so that it's not intimidating. There's so much benefit to just being in the water and being in the woods and the sound of the river moving. There's a lot more to it than just catching fish.
Tom: Yeah. So, there's some days, for me anyway, in these small streams because they're very similar to what you fished that most of my fish are gonna come on the nymph, maybe the water's cold or the fish just aren't surface oriented. What are some of your go-to nymphs that you use?
Charity: Gosh, I love just little small beadhead nymphs. Ian tie's a little Zelon Nymphs that I just love. It's a lot like a little Beadhead Pheasant Tail. In the fall, when we're getting into bigger stuff, we're looking at a Tellico Nymph, stuff like that. Prince Nymph is good. Again, it's just kind of looking to see what's there. You can just kind of step to the edge of the river and if you're not seeing fish come to the surface, step where there's a little bit of current coming in and turn over a couple of rocks and see what kind of bugs are moving around on those rocks, are they an inch long and brown, or are they a half a centimeter and green? Look and see what's moving and kind of tie...
And sometimes you'll find a difference between fishing a nymph that's more of a blonde, fleshy color than a dark brown. And again, that's turning over those rocks and kind of seeing what's moving. We tend to do really well with more brown, dark brown, stuff with a bead head that little bead head just tumbling in the current emulating a fish. I mean, a bugs attaching can get them wound up, but smaller, like size 14, usually size 14 and 16 nymphs. You don't have to go real tiny. We always say that about our dry flies too. Don't make it so small you can't see it. If you can't see it, you can't set the hook, or it makes it more difficult to set the hook anyway.
Tom: Okay. And then, Charity, I get this question a lot, and it comes a lot from your part of the world where they have delayed hatchery-supported streams or partly hatchery-supported streams. And people wanna know, are there any difference fishing for hatchery fish than wild fish? What's your experience in that?
Charity: Gosh. Well, usually your hatchery fish are gonna be bigger, so you're probably gonna wanna use a little heavier tippet or leader. The other thing is they're not as skittish. If you think about the way hatchery fish are raised, they're in a tank where someone is walking to the edge of the tank and dropping in pellets to feed them. And so lots of times they're more accustomed to, or even they go to when they see a person walking to the edge, they don't have that. I mean, I know they have to have some kind of natural instinct to survive, they have to have some of that that's in their brains when they're hatched in the first place. But I think they lose a lot of that, what's the word I'm looking for? They lose a lot of that... I can't come up with a word right now. My brain is a little...
Tom: Caution maybe.
Charity: Yeah, maybe caution. They're just not as cautious about people or shadows. So, you usually don't have to be quite as sneaky going for those bigger fish that are stocked fish. And lots of times too, in wild trout streams, lots of times if you catch a fish in a run and that fish runs around a little bit, you're not as likely to immediately put that fly back in and catch another fish. And I feel like when you're fishing over hatchery fish that they don't really care. That's been my experience. I know that's not everywhere and that's not all of them, but my experience has been they're just not as skittish, and they're fun to fight because they're usually bigger and heavier fish, but the fight is usually a quicker fight.
So, usually roll over real fast, like, "Okay, you got me." And you can bring them. We're wild fish, we have a video that we show where we do presentations in different places, and it's a video of me fishing on Hazel Creek and I hook this fish and it like, runs deep and way downstream. And so, I have to kind of jump up on the riverbank and chase it downstream, and then I land it and it's about a 9-inch rainbow trout, but it is like solid muscle. Sometimes if people aren't familiar with where we are, it's almost like you feel a collective sigh of disappointment when I [inaudible 01:15:46]. They're like, "Oh, I thought I was gonna be a giant fish. They're beautiful." And they're solid muscle, and they're so vividly colored.
A lot of the hatchery fish are squishy. When you land, they're squishy, they're fatter. You know what I mean? They feel squishy. And I guess that's just because I'm so used to catching these wild fish are just like solid muscle and their bodies are firm and their colors are so vivid and their fins are perfect. And the hatchery fish... I do know that a lot of the hatcheries make an effort to use things in their food that'll help the fish have better color and be prettier and stuff like that. So, there's a lot of trophy sections that have big giant fish in them that it's just fun to catch. What's the saying, the tug is the drug, right?
Tom: Yeah.
Charity: So, it's just fun to catch fish. But I love the challenge of the wild fish. I kind of feel like an ambassador of wild fish just being where I am, and just educating people. The water that I guide people in and that I fish in in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the same water that I drink. I mean, it's the water that is collected for our city water. It's the river that runs right through our town, and a lot of people don't realize that. So, teaching people how to protect the water as well as how to go out and enjoy it and be safe in it and find fish, it's pretty cool.
Tom: Do you find any different flies that you use for hatchery fish as opposed to the wild fish, or do you use the same flies?
Charity: So, the river in Townsend, that runs through town is stocked. The state stocks it with rainbows and some brown trout. And lots of times, those fish are going for more of a streamer than a dry fly. They're looking for something like a Wooly Bugger. They're usually looking for something that's bigger and fatter than the standard dry fly that we fish. So, that's just been my experience with what's here in Townsend and town is finding that I was doing a casting lesson with someone trying to teach her how to do... A client of mine was wanting to learn how to double haul before she was doing a trip to The Bahamas. So, we went just to the edge of the park where there's a great big pool and an area that's very popular and it's right at the edge where everything is stocked.
So, I was teaching her how to do a strip set because she has only fished trout streams. And so, we were throwing a cast in, teaching her the fall, dropping the rod tip down and stripping. And these stock trout kept coming up and just smacking the heck out of the bug that we were throwing. It was a big rubber leg nymph of some sort. But I just was trying to give her a little bit of weight on there trying to imitate some of the bigger things that she was gonna be casting on her trip. But the stockfish were just all over that, heavy rubber leg thing. So, I think that the stockfish are definitely more nymph and streamer-oriented than dry-fly-oriented.
And I guess that's just the nature of the way they're fed and they're raised. They're used to something falling in the water and they're grabbing it under the surface more than watching something float overhead above them.
Tom: It may be different in some places because I think some places use sinking pallets, some hatcheries and some hatcheries you use floating pellets. So, there may be a difference in depending on where they're stocked or what hatchery they came from.
Charity: It could be. And I'll be honest, I don't spend a lot of time fishing over hatchery fish. The biggest comparison I would say is just the being sneaky. And lots of times you get...the hatchery fish are pretty big when they get put in the river. So, they're usually bigger and...
Tom: And flabbier.
Charity: Squishy. Don't ever call me squishy.
Tom: No, I won't. Don't worry about that. You're not squishy, Charity.
Charity: I'm just kidding.
Tom: You guys fish in the Rocky Mountains a lot, you fish Idaho and Montana and I think Wyoming when you go out there to host trips and things like that. Compare the stream and the techniques that you see in the Smoky's to the Rocky Mountain smaller streams.
Charity: Sure. I would say that probably the biggest thing when we're fishing smaller streams out West is that we do most of the fishing from the bank. Not all, but we always walk a section and fish along the banks of the river before we step a foot in it. The water's typically bigger out there, and I say the streams that we typically fish, like in Yellowstone National Park or around the edges, like tributaries of the Henry's Fork, that sort of thing, like Warm River, there's a lot of cut bank stuff happening there that we don't tend to have as much here.
So, no matter what stream, you always check that bank because the water tends to cut things away and carve things away, and if there's a curve in the river where the water's hitting a bend in the river, always drop your fly right upstream of that bend and see what comes out from under that bank because there's a lot of cut bank characteristics out there that we just don't have as much here. So, I would say, definitely the cut banks are different, but still always approaching, you know, trying to keep our shadows off the water, fishing upstream, fishing across, trying to disturb the water as little as possible before we get a few good drifts through it.
Lots of times we'll start at the cut bank and then maybe just slide off the bank and step in to reach a slot down the center or maybe an eddy that's on the other side. One of the things Ian and I do a lot, especially when we're in the Yellowstone National Park is we'll split up so that one person is on one side of the river and one is on the other because the water tends to be a little wider and easier to navigate from the bank than we have here in the Smoky Mountains. And so, we can kind of stay together, but we're still both fishing without being on top of each other, without spooking each other's fish kind of thing. And so, that's something that we do out there that we don't do as much here.
Tom: Yeah. Same fly patterns in the West?
Charity: Usually yes. Usually, when we're fishing those cut banks lots of times in the fall, we're usually out there in the fall, September, early October, we're fishing some bigger mints, looking for those brown trout that are running up from the lakes and things into the smaller streams to spawn. But as far as dry flies go, a lot of the same flies, usually the dry flies we're fishing out, they're smaller. But the nymphs we're fishing are bigger. And I guess that's just the nature of where we're dry fly fishing as opposed to... And there's all those little winter stoneflies out there that are pretty small that we tend to get into in the fall.
But then if you're there earlier in the year, you can also fish at great big foam hopper patterns. That's much larger than the Parachute Adams you would use here. It really just depends on the weather and the time of year. Again, just looking around at what's going on and if you're seeing fish move, what are you seeing? Are you seeing them break the surface to grab something? or when you're watching them, are they staying under the surface eating stuff? And just watching that.
Tom: And finally, rods. People always wanna go toward a really short rod in small streams and your streams are fairly tight. What's your go-to rod for fishing your tiny streams?
Charity: Gosh, my go-to rod is an 8 1/2 or 9-foot 4-weight rod. I also use a 9-foot 5-weight rod a lot with a really short leader. That length just gives you so much reach without disturbing the water. And back to when you're looking at photographs of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park streams and most stuff along the Appalachia, there's a lot of white water happening. And so, being able to use the strength of that rod to reach across something instead of trying to hold your line across something, it just gives you a really huge benefit. You can reach straight across over white water and standing waves to reach an eddy if you've got the length of that rod.
If you think about the length of your rod and the length of your arm reaching out, it gives you a really great advantage to be able to reach some different pockets or slots in the river, but if you're fishing a shorter rod, you really can't. For me, I would say that a lot of people think, "Oh, I have to fish a short rod because I'm fishing a tiny stream." Well, if you fish that shorter leader, you don't necessarily have to go with a really short rod because shorter leader, back to allowing the line out with a tip of the rod, allows you to make that cast and just get that reach. I think there's so many advantages. We even fish Tenkara a lot here.
Tom: Oh, I was gonna ask you about that. I was gonna ask you about that.
Charity: We love to fish at Tenkara with a little piece of floating line. We don't use the heavy braided line as often as we use a piece of floating line tied on there.
Tom: Like a 2-weight floating line or something like that?
Charity: Yeah. Just a lightweight floating line and then add your leader or tippet onto the end of that. We're usually fishing a 10 or 12-foot Tenkara rod. The hardest part with that here is when you're landing the fish and tilting the rod back, you just have to be very cautious that you're tilting that rod to the side and not tipping it up into tree branches. Just because the tip of that Tenkara rod is so fine and you don't wanna get tangled up. But Tenkara is a lot of fun. There's a lot of water you can reach without even getting your toes wet. Usually, when we hop in the car to just go out for a day to just go walk or hike with our kids just to get out of the house, we'll always have a Tenkara rod in the backpack.
And one of us, by the time our hike is over, at least one of us or all of us have caught a fish just because we could be out in our hiking boots or in our Chacos in the summer, whatever, and not have to even get in the water and catch fish when you've got a Tenkara with you.
Tom: Yeah. They pack down so small that you can just throw them in a bag or in your pocket even.
Charity: Yeah. They're great. Our son, when he was about eight, our son, Boone, loved fishing with Tenkara because he didn't have to manage the line with the second hand. We took him one day out and he was just catching fish after fish and he told us at the end of that day, he's like, "I'm the Tenkara master."
Tom: I can hear Boone saying that.
Charity: Yeah. It was awesome. It was pretty great.
Tom: So, what do you tell people... People look at these brushy rhododendron streams and they wanna fish like a 6 or a 6 1/2-foot rod. What do you tell the people that want a short rod for small streams?
Charity: I'm not gonna tell you not to fish a short rod, but I'll tell you that you'll be able to reach a lot more things and likely get a much better drift with a longer rod.
Tom: You don't have any problems with tight brushy areas with the longer rod?
Charity: Sometimes you do, but just working your cast around it, sometimes you have to use a bow and arrow cast to get across things so that you're not sticking your rod tip in something. And it depends, if you're on your hands and knees climbing through the rhododendron to get to a tiny stream that you could lay down in and your feet touch the bank on one side and your head's in the dry on the other side, a 6 to 7-foot rod.
[inaudible 01:29:50]. But lots of those streams, as you move through them, they're gonna open up into a great big giant pool that most people would never expect to be there.
There's places on these tiny streams up high that once you get out of the rhododendron and start moving, you'll come into something that it's as big or as wide as lower sections of Little River that's just a big section and there's nothing in it but [inaudible 01:30:21]. For me personally, and I guess it depends on how many rods you wanna own too. A good basic rod is gonna be 8 1/2, 9-foot rod, 4 or 5-weight. And the advantage of that 5-weight is that in the fall, if you're wanting to fish heavier nymphs if you're fishing more in deep slow slots trying to get a nymph down deep kind of thing, that heavier rod is gonna allow you to make cast with those heavier flies easier.
Tom: Yeah. I totally agree with that.
Charity: I just kind of feel like it's a good all-around rod.
Tom: Yeah. And even though people say, "Well, I want to fish a 2-weight line because the fish are small.
Charity: The hard part about that is if you do hook into something bigger, how much is it gonna handle, kind of thing. I find that those smaller rods, it's just harder to make your leader turnover when you're making short cast. Even the smaller lighter-weight rods just have a disadvantage, I would say, as far as being able to get the line to turnover in a shorter cast.
Tom: Okay. Fair enough. And I also agree with you.
Charity: Okay. Thank you.
Tom: All right, Charity. Well, that has been a great introduction to small streams and some great tips here for people that wanna try it. We haven't gone into why you'd wanna fish small streams, but it's pretty apparent to people, you don't see many other people, you don't see any boats, you don't see inner tubes, you're immersed in a beautiful wild environment and there isn't much better.
Charity: Yeah. It's just a beautiful place to be. There's just a lot to see and experience and just wading the stream. I love fishing from a boat as well, don't get me wrong, but there's just something about standing in the water or next to the water. You kind of just become one with that environment if you will, where you're really trying to figure out, you're trying to think like a trout, as I tell people, like, "Think like a trout." I'm trying to sit somewhere where I'm not using all my energy. I'm sitting somewhere where I can hide easily and I've got good food source and cold water and just putting yourself in that mindset when you're in the water also, and thinking about, "Where can I stand that I'm not gonna be where the trout are."
We always say that if people are wading out in the water very deep in the Smoky, it's just because they like the feel of the water. They're not really in there to catch fish, because if they're out deep, they're usually standing where the fish were, but not where they are.
Tom: Or they're trying to get a snag fly out of a bush on the other side, right?
Charity: Well, absolutely. But it's just a beautiful place to be, I mean, no matter what time of year. And that's another thing here, our national park doesn't close and the fish are wild, so they always have to eat. I feel like in the winter months, they do kind of go into more of a hibernation mode. They're a little harder to catch. The days are shorter. It's later in the day when it warms up and earlier in the day when it gets cool. So, your window in the winter is short, but the fish are still there and they still have to eat. So, it's just a beautiful place to be.
Tom: Sure is. All right, Charity. Well, thank you so much. Thank you for taking the time today. This has been a great podcast, and I hope to hope to see you guys soon.
Charity: Sounds great. Thank you so much.
Tom: All right. Bye-bye.
Charity: Bye.
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