Fly Fishing the Smoky Mountains

by Beau Beasley 

I like to fish as often as I can, but like most of my fellow fly anglers, my family is not keen on fishing during the entire stay of any particular location. Ok, if you are newly married you might get away with that for a while as long as you pay attention to your better half at the end of the day.

Anglers fishing the Smoky Mountains often have to contend with tight cover.

Anglers fishing the Smoky Mountains often have to contend with tight cover.

When kids come along, however, all bets are off. Family time is precious. If you’re able to fish at least two days of a weeklong vacation, you should consider yourself lucky. With that in mind I spent some time recently in the Smoky Mountain National Park (SMNP) and did so with the expectation that I should spend time with my wife and kids as well. That meant fishing somewhere that lent itself to entertainment other than fly fishing.

If you do plan on fishing in the SMNP, you’ll of course need a license. The good news is if you’re a resident of Tennessee or North Carolina, you are good to go as these states have reciprocal agreements within the park and the park straddles both states. Also thankfully for those that are keenly aware of how expensive things are today, an additional trout stamp isn’t required. The National Park Service doesn’t sell fishing licenses, but these can be purchased at various stores or online.

A special permit is required to fish in the City of Gatlinburg, which has a nice trout stream running right through town. Since the city has its own hatchery and stocks their local waterways with regularity, it’s well worth springing for the extra license if you plan on fishing or staying in Gatlinburg.

Fishing in SMNP is limited to single-hook artificial lures or fly only. Tandem or dropper rigs are permitted in the park, but you’re limited to only two flies.

Fly rods and lines are what you might expect here with 3 through 5 weights in the 7- to 9-foot class making up the bulk of the work. Floating lines are used nearly all the time, but sink tips are used in the deeper portions of the river and where the current is faster. While fishing shorter rods is helpful in tight cover areas, there are many rivers and streams where having a longer rod assists the angler. Longer rods are indeed helpful when nymphing, which is quite common here. Having a handful of split shot and a few indictors isn’t a bad idea either.

Brown trout like this will often take nymphs fished sub-surface.

Brown trout like this will often take nymphs fished sub-surface.

Flies here are what you might expect with high-elevation fishing. Since the SMNP is covered with trees, terrestrials are staple of any fly angler’s box, and fly sizes generally run from 14 all the way down to 22 depending on the season and pattern. Good all-round patterns for most of the year include Adams Parachute, BWO, Griffith’s Gnat, Black Caddis, Brown Caddis, Elk Hair Caddis, Stimulator, Sulphur, Light Cahill, Tellico Nymphs and various hoppers.  For sub-surface patterns, try brassies, BH Hares Ear, Olive Stone Fly, March Brown Nymph and soft hackles. Rumor has it the occasional wooly bugger has been known to trick a few mountain trout, too.

More Than Just Fishing

The Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee is easily accessed off of Interstate 40 by taking exit 407 where you can then easily access the park in about an hour. This path runs you directly through three towns, all of which are unique and vying for your tourist dollar. First is the town of Sevierville which has a nice selection of restaurants and a host of outlets where the wife or girlfriend of the average angler fly could shop until they dropped, or maxed out your credit card. They also have an excellent corporate Orvis Fly Shop  which has up to date information on what is hatching in the SNP, and of course a plethora of local patterns.

Next on the list is Pigeon Forge, the home of country music icon Dolly Parton and Dollywood  Pigeon Forge, sometimes referred to as the Las Vegas of Tennessee (there is no gambling here), is chocked full of family themed shows ranging from “Lumber Jack Feud” to the “Hatfields and McCoys.” These shows often come complete with home-cooked dinners, which are served during the show. Music lovers will find Pigeon Forge particularly attractive since it sports places like the Smith Family Dinner Theater, which host all sorts of musical events as well as a program highlighting the popular TV show, the Dukes of Hazard. The town also has a variety of attractions for kids including, put-put, go-cart racing and various arcade establishments.

Pigeon Forge, Tenn., located just outside the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, has attractions like the Titanic, which are fun for the whole family.

Pigeon Forge, Tenn., located just outside the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, has attractions like the Titanic, which are fun for the whole family.

One of the most interesting things in Pigeon Forge my family saw was a museum dedicated to the Titanic  Customers here board a replica of the ship and see actual relics harvested from the ocean floor where the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage. Attendees are given a name and a number when they enter the exhibit which correlates to an actual passenger on the Titanic. At the end if your visit you discover whether your passenger survived the voyage or not.

The last locality you’ll pass before officially entering the park from this direction of Tennessee is the town of Gatlinburg. The town sports what appear to be endless opportunities to take in the sights and sounds of the region, nearly all of which are within walking distance of your lodging. For visitors not staying in downtown Gatlinburg, a trolley runs every 30 minutes and will drop you off at a variety of locations.  Ironically a large aquarium run by Ripley’s Believe it or not lies in the middle of Gatlinburg, as do various shops and other tourist attractions. Several quaint chapels dot the town, as well as candy shops and a large collection of local artists. Best of all, visiting anglers can stop by the Smoky Mountain Angler and get the local low down on fishing.  If you call far enough in advance, you might be lucky enough to book a guide. A word of advice here, call well before your planned trip if you want to book that guided trip.

Locations that offer great fishing in this region include the Little River, which is arguably the best-known river in the park. It has a great deal of pressure on it, but it also affords easy access. You simply drive into the park until you see a good place to pull over and then go at it. Other locations include the Roaring Fork, which is located near the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, the West and Middle Prongs of the Pigeon River and a host of other streams and creeks too numerous to list. You can literally drive into the park and then decide where you want to fish when you see a likely place.

Note: Beau Beasley ( is the author of Fly Fishing Virginia and Fly Fishing the Mid-Atlantic.  He lives with his wife and children in Warrenton, VA.


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1 response to Fly Fishing the Smoky Mountains

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