Think fly angling is just for trout? Think again.

The classic fly fishing scene that usually comes to people’s mind is a big wily trout slurping up bushy little insect imitations looped onto the surface of a cold rushing stream or chilly mountain lake.

But despite the Caney Fork’s prime reputation as a superior Southern trout fishery, it isn’t particularly known for its dry fly action.

Opportunities for casting topwater bugs to surface-feeding rainbows, browns and brook trout do arise from time to time, mostly in the middle and lower portions of the river. But consistently hooking up with fish of substantial size and numbers likely requires focusing your attention on subsurface presentations deep into the swirling tailwater currents.

So what’s an angler gotta do to pick a big splashing fight on a floating fly around here? The answer: Go bassin’.

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Looking to pick a vicious topwater fly fight in Middle Tennessee? Bass is your best bet.

The Center Hill Lake region is brimming with possibilities for bagging behemoth bass species specimens: largemouth, smallmouth, spots and stripers. And all are prone to savage attacks on the surface under the right circumstances.

Topwater bass action tends to be best when the weather’s warm — not too hot or too cold. As bass move shallower in late summer and early fall they often can’t resist what looks like an easy bite of live nourishment twitching on the surface.

One of the keys to fly fishing for trout is “matching the hatch.” That generally means casting adult insects or aquatic larvae that imitate what fish are zeroed in on at a particular time and place on the water. For persnickety trout, even when they are actively feeding on the surface, that can be tricky, complicated and frustrating.

When bass are in a dining mood, however, they’re usually less discerning.

If you see schools of shad skipping across the surface — or bigger fish splashing or sipping on top — there’s a good chance you can entice a bass in the neighborhood to snap at a simulated baitfish, bug or frog offering.

A floating minnow pattern or buoyant popper of similar color and size to running shad will likely elicit a hardy yank on your line.

But bass don’t limit themselves to aquatic creatures. Tasty-looking terrestrial imitations will put big fish in the boat, too. If their attention is focused upwards, bass are often tempted by anything that convincingly resembles a toothsome taste of protein.

“For all of my warm-water guides, a mouse pattern is always a great topwater pattern for both largemouth and smallmouth,” said Jim Mauries, who runs Fly South in Nashville. “Whether you are fishing a farm pond or larger lake or stream, as long as you have a grassy bank, a mouse is probably going to be really, really good.”

The mouse patterns anglers are tying these days “look like they’re going to crawl off the table,” Mauries said. To an opportunistic predator like a bulky bucketmouth or bronzeback, that means fresh meat.

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James Johnsey’s “Tennessee on the Fly” guide service specializes in hooking anglers of all skill levels up with big and bellicose smallmouth bass on Middle Tennessee and Upper Cumberland rivers, lakes and streams.

Mauries grew up fishing in Colorado, but he’s been guiding trips, selling gear and offering fly casting instruction for 20 years in Tennessee. In addition to beginners, he loves to lure both savvy traditional rod-and-reel fishermen and trout junkies into taking up fly angling for bass.

“The conventional guys a lot of times don’t think you can catch bass with a fly rod — or they don’t think it is an effective tool, which is inaccurate,” said Mauries. “Then you have trout snobs who don’t want to chase bass. To them, a fly rod is just for trout.”

Both groups tend to reevaluate their outlook after wrestling a thrashing warm-water bruiser to capitulation on a fly rod, he said.

James Johnsey is another area guide who moved to Tennessee from out West and now lives to fly fishing for all the Volunteer State’s game fish species.

In addition to stalking big trout and smallmouth, Johnsey is keen on targeting the brutish striped bass that meander up the Caney Fork from the Cumberland River.

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WEARIN’ ‘EM OUT: Subduing a king salmon-sized Caney Fork striper can be “pretty insane on a fly rod,” says fishing guide James Johnsey.

“If you get into one of those wolf packs of stripers, it doesn’t really matter what you are going to throw. If you get it near them, they are going to eat it,” he said. “We were catching them up to 40 pounds last year. That’s pretty insane on a fly rod.”

Like Mauries, Johnsey delights in introducing experienced fisherman to the art of fly angling.

“It’s pretty rewarding for somebody who’s had some success on conventional tackle, and understands how to catch fish, to then catch some on a fly rod,” said Johnsey, who spent two decades guiding in Montana and Wyoming before moving back to Tennessee, where he grew up.

“All of our big freshwater species live here,” said Johnsey, whose Fairview-based business is called Tennessee on the Fly. “In one week, I might fish for three different species. It is nice to break it up like that — it certainly keeps it fun.”

And Tennessee fly fishing is “blowing up” right now, which Johnsey said is largely due to people discovering that there’s more to it than just trout angling.

Mauries concurs. And Tennessee’s species diversity ought to, in the future, make it more of a destination fishery than it has already become, he said.

“I think that if you live in Middle Tennessee — or in Tennessee in general — and you limit yourself to one species of fish, then you’re an idiot,” Mauries said. “There are times of year when you have wonderful topwater bite for largemouth, and unbelievable small stream or big river fishing for smallmouth. There is great trout fishing. There is world-class striper fishing here. There are five different species of carp you can catch — and gar and muskie.”

“The nice thing around here is that throughout the year there is always something you can chase with a fly rod,” he said. “That’s our advantage.”

DelMonaco Winery and Vineyard in Baxter tempts tourists to toast regional agriculture

Over the last decade, growth in Tennessee agriculture tourism, or “agritourism,” has emerged as a promising, profitable trend for many families relying in whole or part on farm income for their livelihood.

A 2013 University of Tennessee economic survey estimated that farm-based businesses that cater to tourist harvested $34.4 million statewide, and another $54.2 million was generated in local economies as a “multiplier effect” of spending by visitors.delmonacomap

Volunteer State “wine tourism” has particularly flourished.

The number of Tennessee vino-making venues has more than doubled over the last eight years. In 2008, there were about 30 wineries in the state. Today there are about 65, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

“Wine, grapes, grape products and allied industries create employment and new market opportunities in rural communities,” a 2014 study commissioned by the department asserted. “In areas that previously had diminishing farming of tobacco, cotton, and other crops, the planting of grapevines and the creation of wineries is now offering new life. Grape farming is providing employment as is the establishment of new wineries, shops and restaurants springing up in the footprint of these rural communities.”

Barbara DelMonaco, who owns DelMonaco Winery and Vineyard in Putnam County, has witnessed firsthand the industry’s burgeoning potential to prosper since she and her husband, David, planted their first vines 14 years ago.

“Tennessee still has a long way to go to reach its full potential,” she said.

But DelMonaco Winery is doing its best to help Upper Cumberland’s wine industry blossom and develop.

Situated just a few miles off I-40 — an easy detour for travelers thirsting to put interstate traffic in the rearview mirror — DelMonaco is one of seven wineries that make up tasting stations along the Upper Cumberland Wine Trail.

DelMonaco also happens to have taken root right by a working set of railroad tracks. So it periodically serves as the destination depot for a vintage excursion train departing from the Tennessee Central Railway Museum in Nashville. The 10-hour round-trip rides are hugely popular, typically selling out weeks or even months in advance.

A Sip Starts in the Soil

Diane Parks, a winemaker at DelMonaco, takes full advantage of the teachable moments when rail riders from the Music City detrain at the vineyard. It’s a great opportunity to enlighten folks living outside the countryside about the time, talent and tolerance for trial-and-error necessary to coax a crop of grapes out of the ground and into the wine-imbiber’s glass.winetrain

First and foremost, winemaking is an agricultural endeavor, Parks explains.

“A winery is nothing without grapes. The life’s blood of most wineries are its grapes,” she said. “You can make a crappy wine out of really good grapes, but you can’t make a really good wine out of crappy grapes. You really have to manage your vineyard well in order to have good quality grapes — and, in turn, to make good quality wine.”

Tammy Algood, a viticulture marketing specialist for the state, has been studying and helping promote Volunteer State varietals for the better part of 30 years.

It’s gratifying to see the wine industry benefiting from Tennessee’s booming tourism economy, said Algood, precisely because it is “inherently tied to the land.” Tasting-destination wineries represent “a beautiful marriage between the tourist industry and the Tennessee wine and grape industry,” she said

“Grape-growing is farming. And it is beautiful farming,” she said. “This industry is enhancing the visual appeal of Tennessee. If you are going to have a great wine, it started on the vine.”

And often wineries are drawing visitors’ and their vacation-spending into areas both that particularly need it — and might not otherwise enjoy a reputation as a tourist draw, Algood said.

“The topography of the land is very important for grape growing. Unlike a manufacturing facility that can pick up their operations and move to a different county or a different state seeking out tax incentives or a different kind of labor force, an agriculture operation like a vineyard is connected to the land and the local rural economy,” she said.

“You are not typically going to see vineyards in the middle of large cities. You are going to see them where they have land to spread out,” said Algood.

While Tennessee is trailing neighboring states like Missouri, Georgia and Virginia in total number of wineries, wines from here are regularly judged favorably against the best at national and international festivals, she said.

“Each winemaker puts his or her own spin on a particular product,” said Algood. “Tourists that come to Tennessee, particularly from more northern areas, are surprised and pleased to learn that we grow different grapes and as a result have different wines than they are accustomed to.”

“Everybody wants to go home with something from Tennessee, and a bottle of wine is the perfect thing to carry home with you after spending a vacation here,” she said.