I was raised as a can-of-worms type fisherman.
When I was a boy, nobody was taking a fly rod to the various lakes, rivers and stocked cow ponds of Southern Indiana.
And so, when we moved to the mountains and discovered fly fishing, it was something exotic, poetic and, frankly, incredibly hard.
I was a fairly athletic young man. Baseball, football, volleyball and soccer, these things came fairly naturally to me.
The precision, timing and combination of power and light touch of fly fishing? That was something foreign that my muscle memory could not master.
I watched in wonder as fishermen navigated the waters, flinging their lines to and fro, searching for the pools where the next great fish might be.
In later years, I learned my ultimate failure as a fly angler may not have been entirely my fault.
Fly fishing for trout in the Gatlinburg area is made more difficult by the size of the waters in which the trout live.
Often, an angler will find themselves battling overhanging underbrush and tree limbs while trying to get their fly into the right spot.
Are there a lot of trout in the Great Smoky Mountains?
It turns out the mountains aren’t particularly trout friendly. So even if you’re successful in landing a mountain trout – brown, rainbow or brook – it’s unlikely the fish will be of sufficient size to keep.
According to the National Park Service (NPS), the mountains offer a diversity of aquatic insects. However, the density is not enough to sustain a population of large trout.
In fact, according to the NPS, the average trout in the park lives only four years due to lack of food.
Only 4% of native brook trout reach the required seven inches and only 30% of the non-native rainbow trout reach that size.
Only the non-native brown trout – which begins eating other fish later in life – can live longer and grow to nearly 30 inches in the right conditions.
Furthermore, only about 800 miles of the park’s 2,100 miles of streams contains fish. Most of those are found below 3,000 feet.
The chances of catching a brook trout are lessened by the fact they are losing habitat to rainbow trout. Rainbow trout breed and grow faster, and produce higher numbers of offspring.
Today, only about 133 miles of park streams contain the native brook trout.
Still for many anglers, it’s the challenge that makes it great. If it were easy, every one of us with a can of worms and a bobber would be out hauling in beautiful trout from the mountains.
Here are some things you should know about trout fishing in Gatlinburg and the surrounding areas:
Does Gatlinburg stock trout?
You know how serious Gatlinburg is about providing fly fishing options to its visitors? The city operates a trout farm in order to stock the city streams with trout year-round.
The trout are stocked each Thursday – which means no fishing in Gatlinburg City limits on Thursdays.
It also means that sometimes you’ll see a trout angler trying to land a strike outside the Ripley’s Aquarium in the middle of downtown Gatlinburg while his family is inside looking at fish of another kind.
Gatlinburg has also designated several waterways within the city limits for children (12 and under) for fishing.
The children-only streams are:
- West Prong Little Pigeon River from a point 100 yards upstream of the Herbert Holt Park entrance downstream to the Gatlinburg By-Pass Bridge
- Dudley Creek from the Highway 441 Bridge downstream to the West Prong Little Pigeon River
- LeConte Creek from Painters Branch upstream to National Park Boundary
How much is a fishing license in Gatlinburg?
Tennessee, Gatlinburg and the National Parks all have regulations regarding how you can fish for trout in the area. The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) sells a wide variety of sporting licenses online.
Those licenses are good anywhere within the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, which accepts North Carolina and Tennessee licenses. It’s important to note anyone 12 or under in Tennessee does not require a fishing license.
After that? You’d better have one unless you were born prior to March 1, 1926.
Within Gatlinburg, a local permit is required as well. They are available at Gatlinburg City Hall, the Gatlinburg Welcome Center and other outlets.
At the time of this writing, a Gatlinburg one-day Trout Permit is $11.50. Click here to learn more and view all options and current pricing.
Are there size limits to trout fishing?
There are several other requirements a trout angler in city of Gatlinburg should know. At the time of this writing:
- Fishing is allowed during daylight hours year-round, except on Thursdays.
- Daylight hours are defined as one half-hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset.
- No one over 12 years is allowed to fish in any designated children’s stream.
- Catch and release season is December 1 through March 31. During this season, possession of any trout is prohibited.
- During catch and release season, possession of bait is prohibited. Artificial lures other than single hook artificial flies, spinners and spoons is prohibited. The use of one dropper fly with one single hook, separated from a legal lure by a length of a line, is permissible.
- Open season is April 1 through November 30. Creel limits apply.
- The daily creel limit during open season is five trout per person for general streams and two trout per child on children’s streams.
- Possession of more than the daily creel limit is prohibited, regardless of whether trout are fresh, stored in an ice chest, in a vehicle, or otherwise preserved.
- Fishing is permitted with one hand-held rod and single hook only.
Editor’s Note: This article is meant to serve as a helpful guide, but remember, it is your responsibility to know all the current laws and have the correct licenses. Click here to learn more.
Are the laws for trout fishing different in the GSMNP?
The laws in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are different from outside the park, where fishing is permitted year round in open waters.
The official fishing hours remain the same as above. The size limit in the park for all three types of trout is a minimum of seven inches.
You may only possess five fish total of any type except rock bass, whether those fish were caught that day or caught previously and stored on ice or otherwise preserved.
You can catch up to 20 rock bass. Stop fishing once you reach the limit.
Other national park rules and regulations are listed below:
- Fishing is permitted only by the use of one hand-held rod.
- Only artificial flies or lures with a single hook may be used. Dropper flies may be used. Up to two flies on a leader.
- Use or possession of any form of fish bait or liquid scent other than artificial flies or lures on or along any park stream while in possession of fishing tackle is prohibited.
- Prohibited baits include, but are not limited to, minnows (live or preserved), worms, corn, cheese, bread, salmon eggs, pork rinds, liquid scents and natural baits found along streams.
- Use or possession of double, treble, or gang hooks is prohibited.
- Fishing tackle and equipment, including creels and fish in possession, are subject to inspection by authorized personnel.
Visit the NPS’s website to learn more.
Where can you trout fish in the Gatlinburg area?
As mentioned previously, less than half the total mileage of waterways in the parks even have trout in them.
Knowing the best spots to fish is a sacred and time honored rite of passage not easily shared even among friends.
But, outside of the stocked and well outlined areas inside the Gatlinburg limits, there are some great places to give it a shot.
Here are some suggestions on the Tennessee side, near the Gatlinburg area:
1. Trout fishing at Abrams Creek
Located in Cades Cove, Abrams Creek is especially popular among Smokies anglers because it is the rare mountain waterway that is relatively wide and possesses a relatively dense food supply, allowing the local trout to grow bigger and more plentiful than other areas.
The creek is fed by a spring that flows through a limestone rock formation, providing a more consistent temperature and higher pH levels, both of which are good for the trout.
Located on the Cades Cove Loop, the Creek is extremely accessible, but you will have to put up with tourist traffic while getting there.
2. Trout fishing at Greenbrier Creek (Middle Prong)
Located in the National Park between Gatlinburg and Cosby, Greenbrier Road is paved for its first mile.
At its lower reaches, the Creek is good for Rainbow Trout, but the closer you get to the Ramsey Cascade trail head, the more likely you will be to catch the native Brook Trout.
3. Trout fishing at the East Prong of the Little River
Below Elkmont heading towards Townsend is when the fishing gets good with several tributaries worth exploring.
The Little River is popular as it comes down the park because it widens and gives anglers places to seek a strike.
Does Tennessee have fishing guides?
Look, a lifetime’s worth of knowledge is a valuable commodity when fishing these mountains.
You could spend your time guessing the best spots at the best times, trying to create the best experience. Or you could find a professional to help.
And sure, maybe for you part of the fun is the exploration. But if fishing is just part of your planned vacation, a guide can make all the difference.
The Smoky Mountain Angler in Gatlinburg has multiple guided options starting at $200 for a single person for a half day or about 4 hours.
All gear is provided in the cost of the trip – except a license.
This saves time and hassle of bringing your own gear. You can choose a full day specialty trip to Cherokee Trophy Water, which is $375 for two anglers for the day.
Have you been trout fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains? Let us know in the comments!