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Nip and Tuck

The lower Tuckaseegee can be really pretty in spots

      I first heard of the Tuckaseegee River from some friends of mine who swore it was one of the better trout streams in the southeast. I first laid eyes on the Tuck on my way home from the mountains a few years ago and made a mental note to see if it held any bass as it got a little closer to it's terminus at Lake Fontana near Bryson City. Looking at a map the other day, the Tuckaseegee once again caught my eye. I had never made the connection, but both the Tuckaseegee and the Little Tennessee River feed Lake Fontana. The Little T has long been a favorite smallmouth destination of mine, and I hypothesized that the Tuck should have some smallies since it lies in the Little T's watershed. A little bit of research told me I was probably correct, and that's all it took for me to head up to the mountains.

     The first difficulty I encountered occurred on the drive. See, I had to drive right past the Little T to get up to the Tuckaseegee. It took all my will power to drive past a place I KNOW has good fishing to drive to a place that MIGHT have good fishing. "Well, at least the Little T is on my way home if the fishing on the Tuck isn't any good", I thought to myself.

Finding a good parking spot can be a real pain, however!

     I decided to fish fairly close to Bryson City, although a local told me the smallmouth fishing is pretty good (and the river is a lot more scenic) all the way upstream to the dam at Dillsboro. From what I've been told, there are a few rapids on this section of the river that reach Class II, so I'm gonna do some research before I try and float the river. Finding a place to hop in the river was easy, since there is almost always a road somewhere near the Tuckaseegee.

     Since I was unfamiliar with the river, I decided to bring my kayak and tie it behind me in case I encountered some water that was too deep to wade. There were a couple deep spots, but I would've been fine without the kayak. Still, it was nice to have an extra rod, a cooler, and my whole tackle box on what was basically a wading trip.

     I started fishing about 10 AM on a brilliant July day. The Tuckaseegee, though not nearly as scenic, is very similar to the Little Tennessee. The water varies a lot, with sections of fast current, deep pools, and ankle-deep riffles. I fished about 1 1/2 miles of river, and there were some stretches of the fishiest-looking smallie water you'll ever see along with a few stretches of water that are ankle deep all the way across with a featureless bottom. Every stream I've encountered in western North Carolina seems have "feast or famine" stretches of water like this, and the Tuck is no exception.

How come I can never get this close to a bunch of geese during waterfowl season?

    As usual, I began the day with a topwater lure, the famous Heddon Tiny Torpedo and soon tried a small spinnerbait with no success. Next, I started bouncing a 4" worm on the bottom.  By noon, I still hadn't had a strike. Honestly, I was mentally packing my bags for the Little T, which was only 20 minutes away. As I was reeling in the remnants of another fruitless cast, a fat little smallie came up and nabbed my worm as it was swimming back my way.

Not much to brag about, but at least I'm no longer skunked!

     Shortly thereafter, I switched to a 3" curlytail grub (smoke color) and started catching fish simply reeling the grub in steadily near the bottom. By 1 PM or so, I had caught five smallies between 9 and 11 inches in length, which is a fairly typical size for mountain smallies. Then I reached the best-looking water I'd seen all day. Fast water near both banks with two eddies curling towards in rocky water that ranged from one to six feet deep. I knew the biggest bass in the river probably lived here. I attacked the area for an hour with my "big guns": huge lures that I normally use for largemouth bass. Nothing.

     Finally, I decided to try the grub and see if there was anything at all in the area. I immediately caught a small bass, and was just about to move on when my line just stopped coming in. I literally thought this fish was a rock or tree for the first five seconds of the fight. I simply couldn't move it, and it wasn't moving. Then I felt a tug and gained some line, but until I saw a faint fishy silhouette in the water I was convinced I had hooked a turtle. The silhouette I saw looked huge: at least two feet long. I just knew this was about to be my biggest smallmouth ever, but the fish never jumped or really moved a whole lot. It was just a tug-of-war, which I finally won when I landed the biggest walleye I've ever seen in person (which, I'll admit, is not very many walleyes).

Now all I need is a Lund boat to be a true walleye fisherman

Hangin' with Wally

     I never weighed her, but I think even Al Linder would have been proud of this fish. After snapping a quick picture and releasing the fish, I yanked the seat out of my Ultimate and ate lunch sitting in the cool river in complete comfort. Then I noticed I had company. The released walleye was using me as a refuge from the current and stayed right next to me for at least five minutes. I was able to snap a few pictures of her before she cruised off for deeper water.

     After lunch, I decided to try topwater again and tied on one of my favorite mountain smallie lures: a baby Chug Bug. They absolutely loved it. Over the next couple hours, I caught at least a dozen smallies up to 14". To my eyes, the water appeared much less fishy than the water I had been fishing earlier. It was mainly shallow and mostly featureless, with a bunch of small rocks rather than boulders. Every place that looked like it might hold a fish did hold a fish. Further up, the water deepened a little, and the fish got a little bigger. Then, just as the water seemed to be transitioning into really good smallie habitat, the fish quit biting. I called it a day around 5 PM, having caught about 20 smallies and one big walleye between noon and 4 PM.

 

Topwater smallie!

   

A better topwater smallie!

 

 

 

 
 

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