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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


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!


Late Winter 2013..

Hello everybody!! It's been a pretty good while since I posted  anything here, mainly because there hasn't been a whole lot to tell! Our rivers have been running in the trees due to almost double the amount of normal rainfall we received in January. TVA has been forced to open the sluice gates on most, if not all, the major tail waters in East Tennessee to try and maintain the lake levels, and as much as I like to give them a hard time you really just can't! There is some good news however, as I looked at the predicted output for the Clinch it seems as if they will stop spilling in the next couple of days. The other good news is the trout will be fat and healthy going into Spring. I've never seen a high water Winter that wasn't followed by really good fishing!

We have been able to get out a bit this Winter. Even though the South Holston has also been sluicing, they are limited by the number of generators and the close proximity of houses to the water, so although it has been high, it has been fishable. We managed to grab this one on a streamer not long ago, along with some really nice rainbows. I can't say the fishing is red hot but it is good. We didn't try nymph fishing but did see several fish rising to a small blue wing hatch, and had we not been dedicated to the big uglies, probably could have caught a few of them also. I plan to be heading back up with some folks this weekend,  and the first of next week,  unless the Clinch runs a more favorable schedule, and I should have some new info then.

Spring is just around the corner! While you can never really be sure what March will bring to East Tennessee we can't be very far off, and believe me I am READY!! I'm excited about the fishing this year and the high water this Winter should really help to produce some quality fish. With the Clinch backing down to a normal 2 generator flow, we should be hitting it soon,  so check back often. Here we go..Spring 2013!

In closing here's a picture of a really nice brown we landed on the Clinch at the end of last season I forgot to post..sorry Danny! But here he is... 

I also have some new entries for the fish heads gallery I'll be posting  soon. Until then..hope for dry weather and a warm March!



Holiday Report..

Greetings everyone and welcome to the Holidays! It's hard to believe another Spring-Fall season has gotten behind 20th in the guide business. It seems the days just start getting warmer and suddenly we're dodging black Friday shoppers speeding to Wally World on our way to the river! Such is the way of things I suppose, and time moves faster than $150 big screens!

It's been a great season! The Clinch and Holston rivers both fished great for us this year and steady rainfall kept the small mouth streams floatable for much longer than normal. So what can we expect for Winter and especially the Spring 2013 season? Based on what we've been seeing lately we can expect very good things to come. Here's a quick run down..

When we started the season back in March the Clinch was running around 16000 cfs and spilling over the top of the dam. I won't go into the reasons why this was necessary but if you search the archives you'll find my opinion on that subject, for what it's worth. After draining all the water out TVA found itself unable to fill the lake back to Summer pool and began leaving the water off for 11 or 12 hours at a time, drying out much of the lower river and stressing the fish, especially the larger ones, causing many of us who fish the Clinch, a great deal of hand wringing, complaining, and concern. Thankfully Summer rains kicked in just in time, saving TVA and the Clinch river trout from any more stress. Judging from what we have been seeing this Fall the fish have rebounded nicely and are now they're normal fat, healthy, strong selves we have come to expect from the Clinch. The river is also full of healthy 9-12 inch fish that we consider next years crop and should make for some outstanding fishing this Winter and Spring. Although we lost many of the better brook trout to high water (they don't seem to be able to tolerate it as well as rainbows) some of the ones that were stocked this season are beginning to push the 12 and even 13 inch mark, so barring any more 100 year spilling events we should see some really nice brook trout for next season.  The brown trout have also done well though to be honest I haven't been seeing as many in the 14-16 inch range as some years past. There seems to be a really good population below that mark and above it, but as is the way of brown trout, just because we haven't been turning up a lot of them lately doesn't mean they're not there, especially in a river the size of the Clinch! Since we are getting into the time of year( Jan-Feb) when the streamer pursuit for big browns reaches it's peak, I should have a better idea of their status in upcoming reports. All in all the Clinch looks outstanding! The slot limit regulations will remain in effect and while not everyone agrees, they do seem to be achieving the desired results. I expect a very good Spring on the Clinch!

 The Holston river below Cherokee also fished great this year. We had some really good caddis hatches through early Summer and even picked up a few on dries a couple of weeks ago. While pressure, especially from boat traffic was definitely up this year, mainly due to extreme low flows from TVA over the Spring and early Summer, the fishing remained steady well into late August. As many of you reading this know the biggest concern on the Holston is water temps and oxygen levels through the hot months and the effect it has on the hold over population of mature trout. Some years are better than others, but by all indications, hold over was good this year, the survivors seem to be healthy and in really good condition, and showing very little sign of heat induced stress. That should be really good news for the Spring as growth rates on this river are phenomenal! Winter fishing on the Holston can be a little spotty mainly due to water release schedules but if we're able to get on it, fishing should be very good. I expect really good things from this river in 2013!

 I'd like to wish everyone a happy and safe Christmas holiday! I'm personally hoping for a warm Winter like last year but either way I plan to get out and fish as much as possible. If you're one of the fringe element who doesn't put up the fly rods just because it's a little cold outside I salute you! And i hope to see you on the river!




Fall Fishing..

Fall streamer caught brown..last week..results not typical. ;)Warm days and cool mornings can only mean one thing, Fall is upon us. I've said it before but Fall is one of my absolute favorite times of year to be on the river. While you can't generally expect the wide open action of Spring, the weather is usually more stable, pop up thunderstorms are rare, and the sweltering heat of Summer has passed. Some small streams can become choked with leaves but on the big rivers, they aren't often a problem. The crowds have thinned as many people switch to hunting and football season, leaving the rivers to the persistent and the fish.

The Clinch and the Holston rivers have both fished well. Holdover seems to be good. I've had the opportunity to be on the Clinch, Holston, and South Holston rivers in the past couple of weeks and they all have fished well. Holdover fish are the name of the game this time of year, fishing for the survivors. They're a little smarter, and a little bigger, so most of the fish we've been catching have been 12-13 inches and better, occasionally much better! The hatches are mostly gone though we did see a few remnants of the sulphurs on the South Holston and even a few blue wings, but by and large nymph fishing is the order of the day and has been working really well. If you have the arm, and the dogged determination, the next several months will produce some of the biggest browns we will see all season.  Due to some recent rains, as I write this, the water table on the smallmouth streams looks outstanding for this time of year, the rivers have begun to cool a bit, so Fall smallmouth is still a very viable option. if you've had the itch to chuck a popping bug, now's the time!

Hope everybody has the opportunity to get out and enjoy all the fishing resources this amazing area has to offer late season, we get pretty busy October through Thanksgiving, so if a Fall float with us is in your plans, give me a shout soon. See you on the river!!