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Welcome to the River Journal!  My name is Mike Bone and although I've made my living as a full time fly fishing guide here in East Tennessee for over twenty years,  it's not my intention for this to be a guide site. 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.  For 2017 the rest of this site will be dedicated to the idea of a journal. For many years people I've had the pleasure of sharing a boat with have told me I should write down some of the stories I've collected over the years,  before I forget them. I'm not sure what that says about their faith in my memory,  but either way I think it might be a good idea.  So here goes..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


Mountain fishing..

Like many a budding fly fisherman I caught my first trout in a small stream. The Little Bottoms section of Abram's Creek to be exact. The wild rainbow took a size 14 hare's ear nymph after it had swung below me and I was about to pick it up to make another awkward cast. I couldn't believe I had actually caught a trout..the details of that day have been replayed countless times in my brain over the years, even when seemingly more important events fade to obscurity. Another three trips to the park later and I had not caught another fish! Whether that first trout was an act of providence on behalf of the fish gods or sheer beginners luck, I knew I still had much to learn about catching trout in mountain streams.
Then one afternoon I wandered into the newly opened fly shop in Gatlinburg and met a Cosby native named Bobby Shults. Bobby was as unlikely a fly shop denizen as one could imagine, cowboy boots, black denim jeans, and tattoos on the fingers of each hand spelling out the words..LOVE..and..HATE. But despite his appearance Bobby had an engaging grin and warm demeanor as he began spinning tales of 100 fish days in a thick mountain accent. We hit it off instantly. Bobby was the shop's guide and offered to take me on a guided trip into the park and show me how to catch mountain trout. Although the price was reasonable, I still could not afford it. Luckily as we talked further and I explained I was beginning the process of building bamboo fly rods we struck a deal for a yet to be completed rod, and gas money, and off to the park we went!
Some people reading this have met Bobby, some may have even hired him as a guide, but one thing was for certain, love him or hate him, Bobby Shults knew how to catch fish in the mountains! I later became a guide at this very shop, and a good friend with Bobby and we fished together countless times over the years. I also had the opportunity to fish many other outstanding anglers who had fished the mountains all their lives, like Pat Profitt, and Russell Reagan, and my soon to be guide partner, Bob Durham, but Bobby has always stuck out, partly because of his flamboyant nature, and partly because of the unique way he fished. And that is the real purpose of this article.
Bobby had grown up fishing with a telescoping 10 foot long crappie pole called a Little Jewel. He would hang two heavy nymphs off the end and just enough monofilament when swung up, would reach the handle of the pole to facilitate removing a fish. Sounds a little like the latest craze, Tenkara, doesn't it? That's because it was, but that's another story. :). Anyway, as Bobby became accustomed to nice fly fishing gear like Sage rods he adapted a way to still fish with feel, rather than sight, to the new more modern equipment. He would buy a spool or two of Cortland 30 pound test fly reel backing and soak it for several hours in a hot bath of olive RIT dye. After rinsing and drying he would fill up a small fly reel with the dyed backing and attach about a six or eight foot piece of 8 pound monofilament with a nail knot and super glue, add two heavy nymphs, and cast or lob the whole rig like a fly line. Although this sounds a bit strange at first and takes a little finesse to learn to cast, the backing lands on the water with barely a whisper, is largely unaffected by drag, and by keeping a tight line, allows the user to actually feel the trout hit the fly. A major advantage when casting into roaring pools where strike indicators or dry flies and droppers are almost instantly sucked under out of sight. It also allowed the flies to sink far more rapidly than a floating fly line and unlike the all monofilament technique known as the "Cosby Sling" could actually be cast on a light fly rod rather than just lobbed. With a little practice it could even be used to cast a dry fly onto a pool with almost no disturbance at all.
It has been many years since I have spent much time on mountain creeks, I became a big water float fishing specialist, but lately, mostly due to my daughter's growing interest in mountain streams, I have been feeling the pull of small waters and wild fish. I think tonight I am going to break out my two weights, dye up some backing, and tip my hat to Bobby. If you like small creeks, give this rig a try, you may like it, you may not, but in the right hands I can attest, it is awesomely effective!


Weir Dam...

Well I guess you can tell by the number of posts recently that Spring has definitely arrived here in East Tennessee and we've gotten busy! A lot of folks have been asking me about the Clinch flows lately, or lack thereof! TVA began work on the weir dam around the first of April to replace a defective pipe and expect to be completed around Memorial Day. While they are working on this project minimum flows will be necessary during the day and the river will mainly run at night. Good news for wading anglers, not so much for floaters. If all goes as scheduled though the project will be complete by the time TVA begins the recreational flows around Memorial Day weekend. The river has been fishing really good for us and as expected the high water this Winter has left the trout fat and healthy. We've even begun to see a few sulphur hatches with fish rising to dries. Nymph fishing has been outstanding on the Clinch and the Holston river. We've floated all three sections of the Holston in recent weeks and the fish are as healthy early season as I've ever seen them on that river. Caddis hatches seem to be getting underway and I expect that to only increase in the coming weeks. Water flows have been a bit erratic and TVA is releasing more water this week especially in the mornings on the Holston so it definitely keeps us guessing which sections will be fishable on any given day but its really hard to go wrong in Spring! 

I'll be posting updates and pictures in the next few weeks on our Facebook page and on this site so check back often. Time to go swamp out the truck, dry wet waders and tie up a few bugs for tomorrow. Here's a couple more pictures from recent trips and I hope to see everyone on the river. 


April Fools...

Changeable..that's the best way I can describe the weather this past week! We definitely ran the gamut. Sun, wind, light rain, heavy rain, warm, and cold. All in a single day's fishing. To those hardy, cabin fever ridden individuals who persevered and shared a boat with me, I salute you! And so did the fish..By and large the Clinch has fished great and coughed up some really nice, fat, healthy rainbow trout. Although water schedules weren't very conducive to wading, floating was very productive. Midge swarms were flying all over the river and around the boat and the fish we caught seem to be gorging themselves on the little buggers. Last week's rains bumped the water releases back up but looking at the predicted data for next week TVA plans to be releasing less flows on the Clinch and that should open up some new areas to be fished, and explored for the Spring 2013 season. We'll keep you posted but from what I've seen so far there is every reason to expect good things on the river this year.

In the interest of brevity I'm going to leave it at that for's a few pictures from last week...

































Looking at the long range forecast (for what that's worth) I see some 70's creeping into the forecast by the end of the week so Spring is just around the corner. April and May are starting to book quickly so give us a shout..grab your gear..and we'll see you out there!



Raft or Driftboat???

With Spring around the corner many folks will be looking into getting some type of float craft to get out on the river and one of the questions I get asked the most is "which do you think I should get, a raft or a driftboat?" There are pluses and minuses to each type of craft and both camps have their staunch believers, I'm not talking to them..their minds are made up. I'm talking to the people who are on the fence and want some unbiased input. I've had a number of both, as a matter of fact the number I've had of both is a little embarrassing and East Tennessee rivers are almost cluttered with boats that used to belong to me! But for the purpose of this discussion I'm going to list the things I consider to be the strong points and the weaknesses of each, and let the reader decide for themselves which rig is appropriate for their intended use. First up...


Of course any hard hulled boat you can rig a set of oars to could be theoretically considered a driftboat but for this discussion we are talking about the mass produced variety that come ready to drop in the water. In most cases these will be fiberglass, sometimes aluminum, and yes Virginia I know some people still make driftboats out of wood, I've made three of them, but for most anglers the time to build one, or the expense of having a custom one built right, is prohibitive. So glass it is!

The good news is basically you order one from Hyde or Clackacraft, it gets delivered, and you're ready to hit the water, and almost everything in it,  until you learn to row, but that's another article. You will have to do very little rigging or customizing to it. They are stable, aesthetically pleasing, and the interiors are very clean and snag free. They have rigid floors, at least in the angler compartments, and good solid stand up braces, a must for float fishing. Most will float in only a few inches of water given a reasonable load, and are very responsive to the oars, even when full of fishermen and gear. They track extremely well , and are able to move upstream against even a very strong current once you become proficient on the oars. You can rig them with trolling motors and small outboards to help in the slow sections basically by just mounting them to the solid transom. So ok you say..I'm sold..what's not to like? Well..plenty! For starters, someone has to row them.  True of rafts also, so unless you plan to pull over and get out to fish each time you,  will need someone dedicated to the oars and controlling the boat.  Yes you can anchor in spots and fish but unless you are in a monster hatch,  or over the stupidest fish on the planet,  that will only work for a brief time, especially if you move around much in the boat. Which brings me to my second point, driftboats are noisy! If you drop a rod or reel they basically become a big floating percussion instrument. I know of one former guide who used to clean his pipe by rapping it on the side of the boat, you could hear it for a mile. You think the fish heard it? Yes..the answer is yes! And if the rivers you float are littered with shallow, boney water, you will hit things, rocks, ledges, and yes..the fish hear that too. And if those are the types of water you frequent, it's a good idea to become familiar with fiberglass repair or be willing to fork out the cash to pay someone to do it every few years or so. Once the outside gel coat is breached,  fiberglass will begin to absorb water. weakening it even further and sooner or later you will have a hole, and once you have one, you will fight it the rest of the time you own the boat, ask me how I know! Also as stable as they are,  driftboats are sensitive to anglers standing off center, not really a big problem unless you are a guide or spend a great deal of time in the rowers seat, But after a day or two on the water with an angler who likes to lean from one side to the other, or cast with their whole body instead of just their arm, your back will assume a nice S curve that will remind you of the trip for days. Don't know what I mean? Get one and you will!


When I first got into guiding in "93 rafts were the craft of choice. Mainly because it cost nearly as much to ship a  driftboat from the West as it did to buy it in the first place. They were mostly white water rafts with crudely fashioned fishing frames, generally out of two by fours or welded metal from a local shop. You stood on the spongy raft floor or sat on the tubes to fish, and having an inflated self bailing floor wasn't much better. You had to wear waders or hope it was warm, because water would be lapping around your feet if you applied any pressure to the floor by standing up! Times have changed, commercial raft companies and outfitters now make frames that are designed with float fishers in mind. They have solid floors and stand up braces that would rival the stability and comfort of any driftboat. They can be launched and recovered practically anywhere, even picked up and carried for pretty good distances. They can be dropped, dragged, and bounced off river obstacles without worry of damage or noise. Rafts are quiet, deadly quiet. If you hit that ledge or rock that is impossible to miss, just a little outside casting range of all those rising trout, they keep can almost come up and tap them on the shoulder! They carry more weight than driftboats and are almost impervious to where the angler chooses to stand because of much better side to side stability. Get caught in a rainstorm, so what, the self bailing floor will get rid of the rain water in the boat, goodbye to bailing and hand operated pumps while the rain runs down your face. If you think that's not a big deal, try rowing a driftboat with a few hundred pounds of extra water in the floor. Not fun! The new ones, especially PVC ones, can be pumped up rigid making them responsive and easy to row, and they track almost as well as hard hulled drift boats. They add an extra measure of safety in big or turbulent water because even if god forbid the boat is flipped, they will continue to float, not sink to the bottom only to be smashed or wrapped on the rocks like a driftboat. Wow you say! Sign me up for a raft..well..not so fast! Everything has it's tradeoffs and rafts are no different. First off, when you receive your new raft you will need at least one full day to assemble the frame and rig it properly to the boat, that is if your dimensions were right when you ordered it and the frame actually fits! Then you will need several trips down the river to get it tweaked and rigged properly. A poorly rigged raft is a nightmare to fish out of. Extra care must be taken to ensure straps, bolts and riggings do not snag fly lines, floors are straight and level, and you have ample room for gear and rods where they stay out of the way and safe while you're on the water. Then you will need a good pump. In the Summer you will need to air the raft down after you put it on the trailer to keep it from over inflating in the sun, and air it back up once you hit the river so it's properly inflated and rigid. This is a daily routine, a spongy, under inflated raft rows and handles like a river barge and a overly inflated raft left in the hot sun will probably self destruct before your next trip to the river. You should carry a patch kit and know how to use it. River rocks and ledges will not put a hole in a good boat, but a piece of unseen rebar just below a bridge might. I've never put a hole in any of my rafts on a river, but I've seen it happen..better safe than sorry. You will also need a trailer, most driftboats come with a trailer to fit it as part of the package, you pay dearly for it of course, but it comes ready to go. Not so with rafts. I've seen raft trailers made from everything from old bass boat trailers to cut off pick up truck beds! It doesn't have to be elaborate but the point is you will probably have to fashion your own, or deflate and disassemble the raft after each days fishing..a monumental task reserved for only the most masochistic floaters.

In closing, the decision is up to you. Decide where and what types of water you will probably float, the available access points or lack thereof, and what features are most important to you. Right now I'm using one of the new generation of rafts as my guide boat and I love it. As a person who makes my living guiding I have to be able to go whenever and wherever regardless of water levels or access points to find good fishing for my clients and lately a raft fits the bill better than a driftboat. But do I miss the smell of varnished wood in the morning when I put my boat in the river,  like my very first wood boat? Yes..every day. Do I miss sanding and painting or crawling under a wet boat in the middle of the night trying to get an epoxy patch to stick before the next days fishing after slamming into that rock I didn't see coming? Not at all!

 Here are a few of the companies whose products I have owned and can's getting late and I'm fishing tomorrow, so I'm not going to look up links..a quick Google search should find any of these..

Clackacraft Drift Boats..Hyde Drift Boats..Northwest River Supplies rafts and frames..Aire Rafts..Clavey River Equipment boats and frames..Down River Equipment rafts and frames...Greg Tatman Wood Driftboat Kits.



Although it doesn't feel much like it this morning, Spring is almost here! A quick check of the weather this morning revealed rain and possible snow showers for the next couple of days,  but temperatures reaching into the middle 60's by the weekend! Coupled with the fact that TVA has reached a good lake level on the Clinch and Holston rivers the forecast should put a smile on any Winter weary anglers face.

We haven't really had the opportunity to fish the Holston river yet, but the water schedules are beginning to look promising and as soon as the weather cooperates,  we'll be getting over there to do some preliminary runs. I'm pretty optomistic about this season on the Holston. I've been on the Clinch several days this past week and I'm pretty excited about what we found. The fish are bright and healthy as you would expect from a high water year. Even the brook trout seem to have fared well, despite the higher flows.

March is always a month of change, streamborn insects become more active, water schedules change and fish start settling into more predictable feeding patterns, anglers and guides become restless,  and neglected gear gets cleaned and readied for the season to come.  Can you feel it? I know I can,  and if there's any better place in the world than Springtime in Tennessee, I don't know where it is..See you out there!