David Knapp of Trout Zone Anglers guides for numerous species in Tennessee and notably guides the magical waters of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Knapp sat down to take on some questions for the Venturing Angler:
Why do you guide where you do?
Born and raised on the beautiful Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee, I have been fishing the waters of middle and east Tennessee since I was 4 or 5 years old. I consider the streams of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as my home waters. I started guiding here to share my love of the landscape and the residents of our streams with others.
What is your favorite fish specie?
If I had to choose just one fish to target, it would have to be the brown trout. While I love fishing for numerous other species on the fly including largemouth and smallmouth bass, various panfish, striped bass, musky, and several species of trout and char, there is nothing quite like fooling a large and difficult brown trout.
What is your favorite thing about guiding?
Watching the smile on peoples’ faces as they start catching fish, especially with the beginners. Seeing someone catch a trout for the first time never gets old. It is also encouraging to see veteran anglers show the same enthusiasm for fishing now that most new anglers have. It just goes to show that fly fishing never gets old!
What is the most memorable trip you’ve guided and why?
An angler booked a trip in the Great Smoky Mountains last summer to get acquainted with the fishery. Having never fished there, he wanted to learn the ropes so he could continue to enjoy it on his own.
I always try to knock that first fish out of the way in a hurry to remove the pressure on both the client and the guide. The first place we stopped had a fantastic riffle spilling into a nice pool. The plan was to catch a fish or two on nymphs in the fast water at the head of the pool and then move on to other things.
As an afterthought, I pointed to a deep slot running over bedrock in the tailout of the pool and mentioned that it was the sort of place a nice brown might be. With nothing to lose, I decided that we should fish it first. When it was obvious that we didn’t have enough split shot on to get the flies down, I added another piece and probably 3 casts later, the angler hooked a very nice brown trout.
In the Smokies, our fish are on the small side averaging 6-10 inches or so. Anything over a foot long is considered a good fish. When the 16 inch brown came to the net, I told him to just quit and go home. Chances are that it will be a few years before he sees another trout like that again in the Smokies.
What is the funniest thing you’ve experienced while guiding?
Watching anglers go for a swim after crossing places in the stream that I’ve advised against crossing. Naturally, the second I turn around they are exploring the fast deep water and going for a swim. Not quite so funny at the time, mind you, but in retrospect they are all hilarious. One of the best was watching a guy do a ballet move while gracefully falling off of a rock. He did a slow motion spin and fell right into a 4 foot hole. I’m not sure who was more surprised, me, him, or his wife, but we all got a good chuckle out of it once it was determined that he was fine.
What makes your guide service great?
Having gone to school to obtain a B.A. in Mathematics with teaching credentials, I spent time as a high school teacher before becoming a full time guide. That means I have the educational background to understand the teaching side of the sport of fly fishing. The analytical mathematical side of me is always searching for new answers to the on-stream riddles we face every day. I am constantly developing new fly patterns and presentation answers to the fishing challenges on our streams.
If you had only one day off all year, where would you fish and what fish would you target?
That is a tough one. If I’m allowed to travel, I would fish somewhere in the Gunnison Basin in late October or the Gibbon River in Yellowstone in August or September, chasing brown trout at either destination. If I’m staying local, I would fish Little River in the Smokies any day of the year and feel extremely blessed. If I had to pick just one day, it would be in mid to late April during the peak of the spring hatches, preferably on a rainy or drizzly day when the rainbows and browns rise willingly to hatching mayflies.
What are your favorite three flies?
Of the flies I’m willing to talk about publicly, I would say a #12-#14 Parachute Adams, and two of my own creations, the PB&J and the Isonychia Soft Hackle. Book a trip with me and we’ll talk about some of those other flies.
What is the one piece of gear you couldn’t bear to leave at home?
Do you have any other passions?
Photography is another passion of mine. Really, I enjoy anything outside but the camera is always along. Hiking, backpacking, camping, rock climbing, canoeing, the list could go on and on. When I’m not outside, I enjoy writing at the Trout Zone blog, reading books on various topics but especially history, and playing piano.
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