With nearly 700 miles of fish-able waters within the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, no matter what your species and stream, your rod and reel will feel tugs. The fish population moves around each year, so the type of fish you seek and when you come determines your prime fishing spot. 53 species of fish swim in the park waters, and brook and brown trout thrive here all year round. Here are five of the most recommended places to catch these fish and have an adventure in the great outdoors.
1. The Little River: The ever-present throngs of locals and tourists make this the most popular fly-fishing spot in the park. The mountainous and forested scenery isn’t bad either and since the Little River is one of the largest streams in the Smokies, both roadside fishing and elevated fishing,after a couple miles of hiking the Little River Trail, are available. This river near Elkmont, Tennessee has some of the best angling for rainbow and brown trout. The prime fishing location is where The Little River meets the Fish Camp Prong. Surrounded by flowers, boulders, and waterfalls, both easy and challenging fishing areas run down the river. The “Y” of the Prong water warms so much during the hot summer months that the rainbow trout flock into the large, deep pools near the gorge that can be difficult to fish and navigate
2. The Horseshoe: If you want to fish for rainbow trout, you must go to this one-mile loop that follows the stretch of the Upper Abrams Creek flowing out of the Cades Cove Valley. Many locals fish here as well, to try to catch some of the booming trout population. You can access The Horseshoe from the Abrams Falls Trail, which runs parallel to Abrams Creek (one of the larger Park streams) most of the way. Take caution, though, because the Horseshoe is notorious for extremely slippery rocks. It will take at least a day to fish the entire loop.
3. Porters Creek: New anglers can test their ripe skills on the smaller trout that live in the calm pools of Porters Creek, a little-fished area of the Great Pigeon River near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This isolated area has easy fishing during the summer months, when the best trout swim two to three miles from the river’s berth, but the first few miles of the stream remain too warm for the fish.
4. Cataloochee Creek: Since the most popular fishing areas are near the roads, check out this remote area in the northern section of the park. Although it takes awhile to find (about an hour’s drive from Gatlinburg), once there, the water is extremely accessible. Cataloochee Creek also offers the elusive smallmouth bass to patient anglers, and because the Cataloochee Creek hides these waters and open fields, it’s requires less skill to fish here than in other areas of the Smoky Mountains. In addition to the rainbow trout, elk and other wildlife inhabit this picturesque area of the park, isolated by the surrounding 6000-foot peaks.
5. Hazel Creek: For multiple-day fishing trips, you must go to Hazel Creek, a fishing area famous for satisfying even the most cynical angler. What makes Hazel Creek so sought after? Well, it’s only accessible by shuttle boat from the Fontana Lake Marina in the North Carolina side of the park or after a long hike from the tourist spot Clingman’s Dome. But your efforts won’t go unrewarded, as large (and surprisingly colorful!) brown, brook, and rainbow trout swim in both the large and small streams that feed into Hazel Creek. No matter what your skill level, you can fish here. And, with so many campsites along the bank, it only makes sense to stay overnight or make a weekend fishing trip out of it with your buddies or family. At Hazel Creek, you’ll want a rod capable of throwing big flies if needed, but soft enough to handle leader range as well.
No matter what trout, stream, or location you seek, most locations within the park remain stocked at or near the capacity for fishing all year long. Remember, you must get a license from either Tennessee or North Carolina before fishing in the park. And, if you need more help or education, a local fly-fishing school offers guided fly-fishing trips that include day and overnight excursions.