This may not be best weekend to try winter fishing

George Thwaites • Feb 1, 2007 at 10:51 AM

If you're not one of the die-hard angling nuts who already enjoys winter fishing, it completely escapes me why you'd want to pick this weekend to attempt it for the first time.

The winter forecast we're under certainly isn't the worst we've ever had in these parts, but it may very well be the worst we get this winter. Plus, it's Super Bowl weekend. With Peyton Manning squaring off against Thomas Jones, there is a strong regional impetus to settle down in front of the TV with a big bowl of nachos.

Mark my words: somebody is probably still going to give winter fishing a whirl this weekend. Saturday, if not on Sunday.

If so, keep in mind what Kenny Harville at Kenny's Bait & Tackle on Highway 75 near Boone Dam pointed out. You don't need snow or freezing rain to get an icy boat ramp. All you need is freezing temperatures - and the first trailer to get pulled out dripping water onto the ramp.

Anglers in the know already adjust their winter game plan.

"People are only putting smaller boats in at the Boone Dam ramp. People with bigger boats put in at the winter ramp at Pickens Bridge," Harville said.

There hasn't been much word on the crappie fishing on Boone this week. The bass outlook is a little more complete. First, second and third in last Sunday's rodeo fell in the nine-pound range. Silver Buddies and the float-and-fly - 12 to 15 feet below the bobber - were the winning tactics. Craft hair flies seem to be outfishing duck feather flies.

Striper anglers continue to pick up rockfish and hybrids trolling umbrella rigs on the South Holston side from Wagner on up to Devault Bridge. Any live bait for stripers right now needs to be on the smallish side.

Terry Miller at M&M SportingGoods and Polaris on Stone Drive in Kingsport reports that tight-lined duck feather flies twitched in the 10-foot range and blade baits ripped off the bottom in 10 to 15 feet of water continue to catch bass on Cherokee Lake.

Some anglers are having luck tight lining jigs tipped with Berkeley Power Minnows. "Smelt" color seems to be working well, he said.

Johnny Wood at WCYB-TV5 in Bristol notes that the uppermost lakes on the Holston watershed are fishing similarly.

"Water temperatures are in the low to mid 40s. Most of the action on South Holston Lake is on the lower end with the float and fly 10 to 15 feet deep," Wood said.

"You can get to the deeper fish by tight-lining that little craft hair jig. You can also find fish on jigging spoons and Silver Buddies. About the same patterns work on Watauga Lake as well."

Fly fishermen probably have the greatest motivation to deal with the winter weather. The two previously-restricted spawning sections on the South Holston tailwater opened up to fishing yesterday.

"There are plenty of hungry fish in that section that haven't been pestered with for three months," noted Eddie Horne at Fly Shop of Tennessee in Johnson City.

While the tiny midges remain a staple near the weir dam, a lot of anglers plying the better-rested water are throwing San Juan Worms with a Zebra Midge, Pheasant Tail or Micro Midge Dropper. In the presence of any Blue-Winged Olive hatches, run a small subsurface dropper behind a dry fly.

Mike Adams at Mahoney's Sportsman's Paradise in Johnson City noted that most of his regular customers have been so excited about hitting the spawning sections that they haven't expended much energy on the Watauga tailwater. This, of course, would indicate an opportunity for some angling solitude on the Watauga this weekend.

If you're going that way, look out for BWO hatches ranging from Size 18 to 24. Keep a selection of smaller nymphs, including Soft Hackle Pheasant Tails, on hand. And don't give up on streamers. Some nice fish have been caught on Wooly Buggers in black or olive.

Mountain stream fishing is probably dicey if the water is colder than 41 degrees, Adams said. There have, however, been encouraging reports from Paint Creek. Nymphs and Wooly Buggers have generated some decent fish.

George Thwaites is a sports and outdoors writer for the Times-News. E-mail him at gthwaites@timesnews.net. For more information on fishing in Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and Western North Carolina, be sure to catch Johnny Wood's Fishing Report on WCYB-TV5 Thursday mornings at 5:45 a.m., 6:15 a.m. and 6:45 a.m.

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