Great Smoky Mountain National Park is everything it is cracked up to be. Here is preserved a rich cultural tapestry of Southern Appalachian history and the opportunity to catch wild trout in the most stunning scenery east of the Rocky Mountains.
Over 2,000 miles of streams tumble through the breathtaking beauty of Smoky Mountain National Park. To catch a wild trout here is a memorable experience.
The park encompasses over 800 square miles of the Appalachian Mountain Range in eastern Tennessee and North Carolina. Its biological diversity is phenomenal with over 10,000 species of plants and animals having been recorded.
Over 2,000 miles of breathtaking streams course their way through the rugged mountains searching for the sea. Streams of various sizes and descriptions are home to native brook trout as well as rainbow and brown trout.
Names like Little Pigeon River, Porters Creek, Abrams Creek, Laurel Creek, Hazel Creek, Bear Creek, Panther Creek and Indian Flats Prong conjure up images of isolated streams cloaked in mysterious superstition and raw mountain beauty.
Those who venture off the beaten path can experience a wilderness trout fishing experience, where the only company may be whitetail deer and black bears. Displays of mountain rhododendron wrap tumbling streams in a cloak of brilliantly colored flowers creating scenes of superb wild beauty.
Although Gatlinburg is a popular tourist area, it is a great jumping off place for a well planned trout fishing expedition. Dozens of pristine streams flow within an hour's pleasurable drive from the crowded streets of downtown. Fishing guides, fly shops and licenses are all available there.
Although three species of trout are found in the park, seldom are all three found in the same stream due to different habitat requirements. Every angler plying the streams here owes it to himself to target brook trout, the only native species in the southeast, for at least one trip. Although they are referred to as trout, brookies are actually in the char family. Their most easily distinguished characteristic is the light spots on a dark background. Trout sport dark spots on a lighter background.
Most trout run small in Smoky Mountain National Park; a 12-incher is a real trophy. What they lack in size is made up in their colorful beauty.
Brook trout most likely moved south ahead of melting glaciers. As temperatures warmed, brookies sought the highest reaches of streams where the water remained cold and towering trees blocked the warming rays of the sun. Today, anglers will still find these Appalachian natives at the heads of roiling streams.
Non-native rainbows, stocked from 1934-1974, proved very competitive and moved into brookie territory. The best brook trout streams are those with waterfalls higher than 8-feet. Rainbows have not been able to negotiate those falls.
All brook trout streams were closed in 1975 and reopened in 2006, after the diminutive fish had sufficiently rebounded in numbers to sustain a fishable population. Scientists have found that brook trout now co-exist with rainbow trout in many streams.
Brook trout prefer the calmer waters of the streams they inhabit. Eddies and calm pockets are the spots to find them, rather than in the currents and riffles. Stealth is extremely important when approaching these streams. Fish dart to the depths at the slightest noise or shadow. Peering over boulders, crawling on knee pads and keeping a low profile are paramount to being successful at approaching brook trout in the high streams of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. After the stalk, casting skills must be superb to drop a fly gently on the water's surface, after clearing low-hanging tree limbs and stream side bushes.
Numerous waterfalls within the boundaries of the park act as barriers to non-native trout species that would otherwise migrate to headwaters, which are the preferred habitats of native Brook trout.
Found in all major watersheds of the park, rainbows are the most plentiful of the trout species. They are most often the targeted fish of park anglers. Rainbows average five to seven inches, with a12-incher being extraordinary.
Rainbows are a fish of the currents and there is lots of it within park boundaries. Small bowls of swirling water provide great rainbow ambush points as they lie in wait of prey being washed into the pocket. Bushy dry flies with a high silhouette entice rainbows holding in these pockets near strong current.
Brown trout became the last of the three trout species in the park when fish stocked outside of park boundaries migrated upstream. They are generally yellowish-tan colored with large red and brown spots encircled by halos.
Extremely skittish by nature, browns grow larger than any of the trout species in the Smokies. They prefer slower waters with lots of cover. Browns require different fishing techniques. Drifting nymphs or streamers deep is the surest way to connect with a brown trout. They tuck themselves up under boulders, overhanging cut banks and rootwads. They often miss food that floats by on the surface.
Brown trout are often nocturnal feeders, so fishing early and late will increase chances for hook ups. And hang on to your rod, because browns are known for their bad attitudes. They strike with a vengeance.
When fishing for the trout of Great Smoky Mountain National Park, stay out of the water as much as possible. Wade slowly when you must enter the water and keep noise to a minimum. Use natural cover to hide your approach and movement up and down streams.
Fishing and wading upstream allows you to approach fish from their tail end. They face upstream. Cast flies quartering across the stream. Mend the fly line regularly to keep a natural drift of your presented fly.
A "Late Spring Menu" of trout flies that work stands outside the Smoky Mountain Angler fly shop in Gatlinburg.
Short fly rods are the norm for these small, shrub-lined streams. A 7-foot rod will allow for back casts in some quarters. Mastering the roll cast and the bow and arrow cast is a good idea before tackling these trout waters. A few of the larger streams will accommodate 9-foot rods.
I have found that a 6-1/2-foot, two-weight rod and an eight foot, 4-weight rod meet all of my fishing needs within the park.
A wide variety of flies will tempt the trout of the Smokies, but a few patterns seem to show up in every fly box. Adams, Elk hair Caddis, Parachute Adams, Grizzlies, Blue Duns, Royal Wulffs, Irrestibles and Light Cahills are popular dry flies. Nymphs are often fished with bead heads. Favorites include the Pheasant Tail, Hare's Ear, Prince, Bitch Creek, Zug Bug, and Kauffman Stonefy Nymphs. Streamers in Wooly Bugger, Muddler Minnow, Clouser Minnow, Double Bunnies and Zonkers patterns produce fish as well.
So, if your family is in need of a vacation in a touristy area, don't forego fishing opportunities. Plan well, and check out Great Smoky Mountain National Park on your favorite search engine.
And as Smoky Mountain trout fishing guide Chad Williams said, "There is fishing fun to be found here for anglers of all ages."
The personal satisfaction of catching and releasing a truly wild trout -- one which spawned and managed to survive in the delicate environs and spectacular beauty of a high mountain stream -- impacts a man's soul. Briefly holding such a fish in the palm of one's hand stimulates deep emotions and creates an undying appreciation and understanding of its daily struggles to exist. The experience ties a man, forever, to the fish, to the disciplined stalk required to bring it to hand and to the unparalleled, raw beauty of this tiny, wild creature and the breath taking scenery in which it is found.