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Welcome to the River Journal!  My name is Mike Bone  I've made my living as a full time fly fishing guide here in East Tennessee for over twenty years. If you are interested in our current rates, or how to contact me about a float,  please click on the guide information section to the right. If you have questions, comments,  suggestions, or something you would like to contribute to these pages email me at, or by signing the guestbook at the top of this page. I'd be happy to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoy the read..Mike Bone


Cormorants, Otters, and Herons..oh My!

The River Journal 2017 Holiday Newsletter is out. If you don't recieve it and would like to make sure and shoot me an emai and I'll add you to the list. This latest article is from the newsletter so I thought I would also post it here. Mike.

One of the things many of us who frequent the tail water rivers of East Tennessee have noticed over the past five years or so has been the increase in the number of predators who prey on trout, especially stocked trout who haven't yet developed the survival skills of holdover or wild fish. In particular avian predators like cormorants have increased their numbers dramatically, but even mammals like river otters,  also seem to be on the rise. Which of these predators have the most impact on our fisheries and our limited resources of available trout? I had my suspicions, but here's what I was able to find out from some of the available research. First up are our cranky old buddies, the Great Blue Heron.
In 2000-2001 a study was done below the Bull Shoals and Norfolk dams in Arkansas to determine the effect of Great Blue Heron predation on stocked trout. It was found that most captured live trout  by the resident heron population fell between 10.5 and 28 cm in length and that while trout did make up 68% of heron diet,  they only represented a 2.4% loss to the numbers of trout in these two rivers. Therefore they were not considered a major factor in trout loss when compared to other predators , human anglers,  and natural mortality rates. Next up,  and something I have particularly noticed on the Clinch River lately,  are river otters. I have personally watched a group of up to a dozen or more pursuing trout on the lower end of the Clinch on a number of recent trips. So how damaging are these fun loving animals to fisheries? There doesn't seem to be many studies on otters in river environments, but one  conducted in 1998-2000 on two Danish lowland rivers concluded that otters rapidly change their diet preferences when stocked trout are introduced,  and will prey disproportionately on the newly stocked fish which  were easier to catch. An adult otter eats between 15 and 25% of it"s body weight a day and can spend up to 5 hours a day foraging. So in rivers where their diet is primarily trout,  you can see how that adds up pretty quickly! Therefore it was determined that otter predation was significant,  and should be considered by fisheries managers when stocked trout are used, which brings us to our last predator on the list; the double crested cormorant. A study on the lower Platte River in Wyoming showed cormorant diet consisted of 85% suckers prior to the stocking of trout. After stocking,  trout made up 98% of their diet,  and that by the end of the study,  80% of the stocked trout had been consumed by the birds. Another study in 2001 tracked the numbers of stocked steel head consumed by cormorants living on an  island in the Columbia River. It was determined that this one colony of cormorants consumed  15% of the steel head stocked in the river.  Another study on the Minersville reservoir in Utah showed that cormorants consumed over 30% of the stocked trout within 2 weeks of stocking. 
With the numbers of these birds increasing year after year on Tennessee tail water rivers,  it's safe to assume that the cormorant poses a major threat to our limited resources. Unfortunately due to their protected status from the US Fish and Wildlife service as a migratory waterfowl, and no recognized hunting season like more desirable birds such as ducks and geese,  they enjoy complete protection from hunters and fisheries managers alike. It is possible however,  to get depredation permits from the Feds like  South Carolina did on the Santee Cooper reservoir system to reduce their numbers through managed hunts. Moreover,  several agencies have tried to reduce their consumption of stocked trout by changing stocking regimes and stocking larger trout that are less susceptible to being caught. Last year on the Holston,  when the numbers of cormorants were at their highest,  at least 1 in 5 of the trout we landed over 14 inches,  had evidence of injury from cormorants. So what can we do as anglers to combat these efficient predators? Directly, not a whole lot,  as outright shooting them would be illegal. Contacting TWRA and fishery managers and making them more aware of the problem will be good start. I plan to do just that,  and I'll be reporting on those conversations in subsequent posts.


Clinch River weir dam news..

I've been having some interesting conversations and email exchanges lately with accomplished local fly fisher and long time trout advocate,  Joe Congleton, about the function of the TVA weir dam on the Clinch river, and more to the point,  the practice of not generating any water for a period of up to 11 hours during times of low rainfall. Admittedly this probably hasn't  been the best Spring to try to address the issue since lack of water has not been our problem, but rest assured, it's coming! For the past several years we have been in a drought cycle of varying degrees,  and many of you who watch the water schedules will remember the Clinch being off 11 hours at a time last year during the hottest part of Summer. I, and many other people, felt that practice to be absolutely detrimental to the fish, especially in the lower reaches of the river. Not only does it allow the water to warm up, it also uncovers normally wet areas essential to the healthy production of insect life that sustain the trout. It also forces larger fish to work harder for their food, and makes predation much easier for the ever growing number of fish eating birds. 
Unlike the Holston river which has no weir and must generate every five hours to maintain minimum flows, TVA contends the weir dam allows the water to be off for such extended periods of time by metering the water out slowly from the weir pool, maintaining adequate flow downstream. Since TVA so far has been unwilling to consider releasing water more often, the question Joe posed is whether the weir dam is operating properly and as designed. His inquiries led him to Tom Barnett, head of TVA water management. Mr. Barnett assured Joe he had plans to have a USGS team out at the end of June to ensure the weir is operating properly and if any adjustments need to be made to the valves or release schedules to maintain proper flows. I'm not aware of the results of that study as yet but I will pass them along in the holiday newsletter.. Definitely a step in the right direction, and kudos both to Joe for addressing the issue and Mr. Barnett for initiating action to find out some relevant data. 
Just from my observations which are definitely not scientific, the further down river you went, especially last season, the poorer the condition of the trout. Especially the larger trout in the 17 inch plus range. They seemed skinny and stressed, something I have rarely seen on the Clinch river in my 25 years as a full time guide. I will be very interested in the outcome and so should anyone who values the Clinch river trout fishery.


Better late than never! In case you haven't heard the smallmouth bite is on! Water levels are finally down on our rivers and popper fishing has been great! 'Ve been chasing them the last two days and it has been some of the better surface fishing I have seen in a long time. We've been casting smallish (size 4) poppers pretty much all day long and have been catching some really nice fish. Now don't get me wrong, I love to streamer fish, but seeing a smallmouth smash a popper has very few equals in the world of fly casting. The best part about popper fishing is your normal trout gear works just fine. Weight forward floating 5 or 6 weight lines work well and you don't even have to worry about soft presentations. My normal popper routine goes something like this..plop the popper onto the surface, hard enough to make a small splat! Let it sit a few seconds until the ripples subside and then give it a small twitch with the rod tip..let the ripples subside again, and then begin a jerky retrieve for a few feet, pick it up and start over. Most of the time hits come shortly after the popper hits the water. Sometimes in ripples smallmouth with chase and hit it on the retrieve but most of the time bringing the popper all the way back like a streamer is a waste of time. SPLAT..REST..POP..REST..SHORT RETRIEVE..REPEAT! 
Give it try..I guarantee you the first time a smallmouth destroys your popper, you'll be hooked for good!


The tourist and the trout..

It was a quiet afternoon in early Summer and I was working as a manager and guide at a fly shop in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  Since the release of the movie A River Runs Through It, earlier that year, traffic had nearly doubled in the store,  and people new to the sport of fly fishing were a welcome daily occurrence.

 I was in the back room getting some fly tying materials that had just arrived ,  when I heard the bell on the front door ring,  signaling that someone had come into the shop.  I came out and spotted a rather slight,  dark haired man, probably in his mid thirties, hovering around the fly case with the look of unease that comes with not being sure of exactly what you’re looking for.  So,  I greeted him with the universal fly shop opening line , “ Been doing any fishing?”  He seemed  glad that I had broken the silence,  and said that he had been fishing most of that morning without much success,  and was wondering what fly  might be the best to use. I did a quick rundown of the most popular flies in the Smoky Mountain National Park and we finally settled on a few Thunderheads, a bushy dry fly I had been using on a guide trip the day before,  with good results. I pulled out a map, showed him the area we had been fishing, and since he was unfamiliar with the park, tried to give him a few tips on technique and  presentation. He left the store excited about tthe next morning’s fishing.

 The next day, a little after lunch I looked out the front window to see the same man crossing the parking lot and as he walked through the door I could tell he seemed frazzled. Before I could say a word,  he allowed that he had been fishing all morning, lost all the flies he had bought, fallen in the river, and still not caught a single trout. He said he was only going to be there two more days and asked if I could guide him the next morning. I had the next day open and told him I’d be glad to. We arranged to meet at the shop at 8am, and when I arrived early that morning he was in the parking lot waiting to get going. We chatted a bit on the way to the stream and I learned his name was Paul, he was from  Cincinnati,  Ohio, and he had just recently taken up fly fishing. When we reached the stream we suited up, rigged his rod, walked a little way up the trail,  and eased into the water. It quickly became apparent why Paul had been struggling. He waded up the middle of the stream like a bull moose, staggering, and pushing water in front of him with enough velocity to spook trout on the next drainage over. He then began swinging the fly rod through the air like an Indian woman beating a prayer rug. I called an all stop to the casting. We stepped out of the river, walked a few hundred yards upstream and began again. After about an hour of instruction we were ready to resume fishing , and to both our amazement, Paul began to catch fish. First a little rainbow, then a colorful brown, and after about another hour when we stopped for lunch,  Paul had landed half a dozen small, wild, Smoky Mountain trout! However where I expected to see jubilation, his mood actually seemed to be deteriorating, so I mentioned as we were eating our sandwiches that I couldn’t help but notice his concern,  and if there was something wrong,  or something else he was expecting from the day?  That’s when the truth came out!  Paul, his wife, and her entire family were staying in a nearby campground and he had been promising for the past two days  to bring back a trout dinner for the entire group. Every evening when he returned empty handed he had to endure jokes about his fishing prowess, or lack thereof. And although he was thrilled to have actually caught fish,  he was hoping they would be much bigger and numerous enough to take back to his in laws for supper. After considering our predicament for a moment , I made a suggestion. We were only about twenty minutes from  a trout farm in Cosby that could sell him whole trout, we could then put them on a stringer,  I would show him how to clean them,  and he could return to the campground and finish the job in front of his surprised relatives and admiring wife. He was like a new man! We fished for a couple more hours, caught and released several more beautiful, wild trout, and headed over to the trout farm in Cosby , before returning to the fly shop. I never heard from Paul after that, but I feel certain both he,  and his ravenous relatives were happy. And I learned a valuable lesson that would serve me well for the next twenty years as a guide..everyone comes to the sport with different expectations, make sure you understand what those are before you begin a guide trip, secondly, never take your in laws camping.



River Journal 2014 Video Slide Show..

What better way to kick off the 2015 guide season than with a wrap up of the season before. I was asked to do a presentation for the Clinch River chapter of Trout Unlimited recently and even though I had all but quit doing presentations, I readily agreed because of my involvement with these fine folks, and all the good work they do for the river and fly fishing as a whole. Shortly after hanging up the phone however I began to consider what I actually had to show them! Inventory came up with one very outdated slide in, about slide, about next slide, get the picture. So I sat down with my hand me down Macbook from my daughter and began putting pictures and music together and although its obvious I'm no Ron Howard..I think it came out pretty good! Good enough at least to be something I plan to do at the end of each season. I'm  sure there is a way to upload it here,  but until I figure out what that is,  you can view it on YouTube at the following link....

Im pretty excited about the coming 2015 season for a number of reasons which I will be publishing in following posts. In the meantime think Spring!!