With cold November rains, water temperatures fall and stream levels rise at Big Soddy Gulf. The creek is too cold to swim in, but conditions are perfect for rainbow trout, and area anglers are taking full advantage.
This fall, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) stocked hundreds of trout into Big Soddy Creek for the delayed harvest (DH) season. Since then, fish have scattered to settle into holes and runs across more than a mile of clear, cold creek.
Will Collier, the Region III River and Streams Manager for TWRA, says most of the several hundred trout stocked at Big Soddy are 10 to 12 inches long. He says they also sprinkled in some larger fish "upwards to a couple pounds."
Only artificial lures are allowed, and all trout must be released from October 1 through the last day of February. The Gulf is about 30 minutes north of Chattanooga, and it's a target-rich environment for any angler, whether you're a newbie with kids or a veteran fly-caster.
So ... slip into your thermals and wool socks, pull on your waders, a parka, a warm hat and some fingerless wool gloves. What feels cold to you is comfortable for trout, and they'll bite even when it's cold enough for ice to rim the banks.
Wading the creek is not necessary for anglers fishing conventional spinning gear. A wide gravel trail runs the length of the DH stretch. It offers easy access to the creek, and there's plenty of casting room from the bank.
Fly-fishers will need to get their boots wet. A good pair of breathable waders is standard equipment. Just make sure you're wearing good non-slip wading boots. Big Soddy's wet cobblestones and boulders are slick, and an accidental swim this time of year can be dangerous. Wading carefully and deliberately, especially in high water, should keep you dry and hypothermia-free. If you do flood your waders, the parking area is a mile or less down the trail.
An ultra-light spinning combo is perfect for trout in small- to medium-sized streams. If spooled with 4- or 6-pound-test line, this will allow long casts with lightweight lures.
Remember, bait is not allowed. Worms and crickets are illegal, and so is anything that attracts by scent or taste. Leave popular baits like canned corn and Berkley Powerbait at home. You can get a ticket just for having them.
Artificial lures are effective, and they are easier on the fish. Here are some proven trout-catchers: Panther Martin and Rooster Tail spinners in 1/16- to ¼-ounce, 1.5-inch Rapala Floating Minnow, 2-inch Rebel Wee Crawfish and size-8 Trout Magnet jigs.
These lures are easy to use, even for smaller kids. For the spinners and crankbaits, cast quartering upstream and retrieve down and across the current. For jigs and worms, cast upstream and let them drift with the current, twitching them occasionally. To protect the fish — and yourself, if you're fishing with kids — consider lures with only a single hook and mash down the barb.
A 9-foot, 5-weight or lighter rod and a standard floating line is the setup for Big Soddy. Early in the season, freshly stocked rainbows gobble "junk flies," like egg patterns, mop flies and Squirmy Worms. As the season progresses, the fish figure out what natural trout food is.
If junk flies aren't working, switch to something more natural. Stonefly nymphs are always a good choice to anchor a double-nymph rig with another small flashy nymph like a Rainbow Warrior or Holy Grail. You might turn a larger fish with a streamer, or — if you see fish popping the surface — match the hatch with a dry fly. Blue-winged olives, midges and small black stoneflies are good wintertime patterns.
In March, Big Soddy Gulf reverts to regular trout regulations. TWRA conducts additional stockings in March and April, and anglers are allowed to use bait and keep seven fish per day. If you like to eat trout, have at it. By July, water temperatures are too warm for trout to survive.
For more information, visit the TWRA website.