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The onset of cooler weather in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia feels like the seasonal shift is ahead of schedule.
Then again, perhaps we’ve grown accustomed to abnormally prolonged summertime weather.
With regard to the grand scheme of things, Johnny Wood at WCYB-TV5 in Bristol gives us the cosmological lowdown. According to the time-honored solar calendar, autumn is practically on top of us.
“We are a week away from the first day of Fall and fishing is perking up,” Wood said. “By the way, the autumnal equinox is Friday, Sept. 23.”
Rod Collier of Colgard Outdoor Sports in Norton remembers cooler Septembers as being more normative for the region. It still feels a little early, but he welcomes it.
“The cooler weather is helping. The fish are definitely trying to run the shad down and are starting to group up a bit,” said C o l l i e r.
“It’s been slow, so we needed something to get the fishing back up to speed.”
What’s happening on Flannagan Reservoir is popping up on most Northeast Tennessee reservoirs.
“We’re seeing a few caught on topwater with Zara Spooks. But the crankbait bite is still the best right now,” said Collier, who likes the shad-colored cranks that run in the 8- to 10-foot range.
“The best places are the points and banks where you can find the chunky, bigger-sized rocks.”
On lakes that also contain rockfish and hybrids — Boone, Cherokee and Norton — cooler water surfaces promise more action in shallower water. It also gets progressively easier to ambush a big, old ball of baitfish back in the shallows.
Anglers on South Holston Reservoir have successfully trolled spoons for rainbow trout at depths of 30 to 50 feet with lake trout much deeper (90-100 feet). As the water gets cooler, we’d expect to see the trout get shallower.
Walleye on Holston are susceptible to Cats Paw Spinners tipped with nightcrawlers at depths of 15 to 20 feet.
On the fly fishing beat, Jimmy Dobes at Mahoney’s Sportsman’s Paradise in Johnson City reports that Mike Adams fished the South Holston tailwater on Wednesday and had a great day.
“They were sluicing at 590 c.f.s., a little high to wade, but you can still safely wade the shallower sections,” Dobes said.
“The name of the game on that river is sulphurs, sulphurs, sulphurs.”
The Blue Winged Olives are starting to show up, but they really haven’t come into play yet, he said. An array of sulphur dries as well as Split Case and Pheasant Tail nymph patterns (Size 18) are the flies to have on hand. Beetles aren’t completely off the menu, either.
Sulphurs remain the dominant mayfly getting eaten on the Watauga tailwater, with a Size 18 brown caddis hatch also worth matching. Lots of craneflies and even a few cicadas — although the latest cold snap probably knocked the jarflies down for good.
Fly anglers who favor smallmouth should find conditions increasingly favorable as water temperatures decline in the Nolichucky and Holston rivers. Must-have flies include Todd’s Wiggle Minnow, Wooly Bugger (dark and light), and Damselflies (blue, black and red).
Don’t neglect traditional cork poppers and sliders in assorted colors. Rubber legs are always a good thing. Chartreuse with a black hackle usually is effective. Or try white and orange. Better yet, use burnt orange and Chicago maroon.
If an obligatory shopping trip to the Smokies is on your upcoming agenda, consider the weekend of Sept. 24-25, as Rocky Top Outfitters will be holding its 13th annual Fall Trout Tournament. The local streams have been heavily stocked for this event, including fish in the 3- to 9-pound class. For a $40 entry fee, you can fish for cash and prizes in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. For more information or to register, contact Greg Ward at (865) 661-FISH.