Middle River Dispatches is a gumbo of posts about fly-fishing, conservation, politics and days afield.

Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

its not about the fishin, its about the friends...

it's not about the fishin, it's about the friends...

A couple of weeks ago I was in Tennessee on a fishing trip with three of my best friends. This was the second trip we have taken together as a group. Like last year, we spent four days fishing for trout in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The park is only about a five and a half hour drive south of here and contains over 700 miles of wild trout streams. The terrain features and watershed are not that different than what you find here in the Valley in the George Washington National Forest or the Shenandoah National Park.

What is different is the variety of trout you can fish for. All the trout in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are wild. They stopped stocking in the early 1970’s. You can fish for rainbows, browns and brookies there.

This year, like last, we started our trip at Little River Outfitters, Byron and Paula Begley’s shop in Townsend.

I have been in many shops over the years and this is one of the best. Not only do they have the gear you need, they have the local knowledge. Most importantly they share that knowledge willingly. If you decide to head down that way you really should check in with them.

What I really enjoy about the GSMNP is fishing for rainbow trout in the mountain streams. Rainbows, like brookies, are quick to take a well-presented dry fly. Catching these acrobatic fish in fast-moving mountain streams is a thrill.

According to the folks at Little River Outfitters “Rainbows are found at almost every elevation in the Smokies with the exception of some high elevation brook trout streams. Rainbow trout generally average in size from 4″ to 10″ and on rare occasions up to 14″”.

On this trip we spent a lot of time dodging the rain so most of the fish we caught were on nymphs tied behind a dry fly. Little yellow stoneflies, March Browns and light Cahill’s seemed to be the most prominent. We started to see a few sulfurs come off as well.

We stuck with pretty standard nymph patterns, pheasant tails, copper john’s and gold-ribbed hare’s ears. My “go to” nymph and all-around best producer was the shop-vac.

Last year we had a map marked with prime fishing spots. Our plan had been to fish the same areas again since they had lived up to our expectations last year.

The water levels this trip forced us to seek out new spots to fish. Waters levels were three times the normal flow, blowing out the larger rivers and making even the moderate sized mountain streams dangerous to wade.

Since many of the streams are easily accessible from the roads and trails we were able to look over the map and plan each day’s fishing based on the current or forecast water conditions.

This type of fishing is a bit more challenging than what we had wished for. Last year we had split up into pairs and fished different sections of the streams. With water conditions as treacherous as they were we opted to fish together as a group.

Needless to say this not only allowed us to scout around for potential fishing locations it also gave us a chance to offer each other some good natured “critiques” of each other’s fishing abilities.

Our evening destination was the Little River just up stream from Metcalf Bottoms. This section of the Little River boasts large pools, long runs and lots of pocket water. This is where the big brown trout hang out and we were hoping to find one or two.

Given the water conditions we opted to fish a long run near one of the picnic areas. For three of the four evenings of the trip we swung streamers and nymphs in the swift murky water.

Each evening we were rewarded with a good hatch of mayflies and stoneflies giving us some great fishing to rising browns and rainbows.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. Fishing is a great way to join in the celebration.


  1. I grew up fishing TGSMNP as well as Laurel Fork, Rocky Fork, The South Holston and Wataga Rivers. Try fishing up stream with a bright colored nymph with a wooly worm weighted dropper about 18″ below. This works best in water that has a bit of color to it, one or two days after a rain. Flip it up stream and pull it just slightly faster than the current.


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